Berkeley Chickens: Friends and Would-Be Roommates

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Among other happenings in 2014, Kate and I became chicken farmers. Or at least fowl cohabitants.

Kate has a work friend who last spring needed to find a home for two chicks. We had thought about getting chickens — we have a neighbor who has three and several friends who have them, too and poultry is probably the fastest growing segment of the Berkeley population — so we said yes.

I won’t go into the chickens’ full joint biography other than to relate their names, Millie and Rhoda (it’s a pretty straightforward ’60s-’70s pop culture reference, if you want to play). Kate found a coop on Craigslist and designed a nice little enclosure for the birds, and they’ve been enjoying what seems to us a fairly happy chicken life out in our backyard. Most days, we give them the run of the backyard, and we’ve discovered that one of the things people say about chickens is true — they crap everywhere.

But they’re also surprisingly personable, and it’s way too easy for them to get the idea that they are pets instead of farm animals whose highest calling is to meet our demand for protein. We started giving them rolled oats as a treat, and they caught on right away: As soon as they saw us walk out the back door with the bag, they’d come running over in a manner that is both charming and insistent. “Look at how we run! It’s kind of funny! What’s that in the bag? When are you going to give us some?”

Right, I’m anthropomorphizing.

But so are they. They’ve noticed that we go in and out of the house, and they appear to be very curious about what goes on inside. At first, they’d track our movements through the house, running from door to door as they saw us walking back and forth past windows and doors. We generally leave the back doors open a crack when we’re home, but the chickens have shown a desire to explore the indoors. They’ll come into the back hallway and look around, maybe enjoying the relative warmth. I’ve tried to get them out as quickly as possible when they come inside. And I don’t leave the door open anymore, because we’ve discovered they’re just as likely to crap indoors as out, and you have to draw the line somewhere.

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