i hear that those seriously interested in having chickens around research breeds, laying patterns, types of eggs to expect and what feed is best. they travel to feed stores, carefully studying and picking out their feathered choices before carrying them home. for others, perhaps chickens arrive because of the irrestistable draw of the cuteness of a tiny, yellow chick–or two, or maybe twenty–innocently peeping, a warm, soft snug fit perfect for a begging child’s hand…”please mommy, please…can’t we bring some home”… most of these poultry affecionados build sturdy hen houses and roosting spots for their new, exotic breeds of chicken in order to contain them, designing elaborate fencing and pens. who can resist the vision of farm-fresh eggs, lovingly collected each morning, scrambled lightly for breakfast, or sold by the dozen, roadside, as a means for extra cash. and after all, what city-dwelling friend wouldn’t love the gift of a dozen free-range, farm fresh eggs from their pals living in the country?
i am an unintentional chicken rancher. two small flocks of neighbor’s chickens on each side of this land have decided that free-range feeding is better on this side of the acreage. they roost in the old, now-horizontal branches of the leaning-to-the-ground douglas firs that maintain the privacy of the view from the back deck. they scratch at the base of the apple trees, releasing the earwigs from their hiding places in the bark. they shit in my driveway at the exact spot where my foot hits the ground when i come home from work. they have hopped up into the vegetable box, past wood and wire, where they ate the last of the cherry tomatoes that were hanging on until the first frost hit. they scratch and poop in the pile of bedding dirt and compost near the fence, left unattended since the last late summer plantings. they gather in the center of my driveway in the mornings, stupidly refusing to move out of the way as the mass of noise and steel heads toward them at high speed. the very sight of them sits on my last good nerve like the slow crawl of fingernails on the blackboard.
the red fox who lives at the top of the dusty driveway beneath the stand of redwoods has sampled this flock, leaving nothing behind except a circle of white feathers. i smiled.
i am an unintentional chicken rancher. and i am not happy.