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Uptown chickeneering

Andy Hinds | Parenting

The last thing I need right now is a hobby. My almost 4-year-old twins no longer nap, and rarely stop moving, talking or needing. And yet I have been overcome by a strange compulsion.

Andy Hinds

Andy Hinds

Perhaps I can attribute it to my family’s agrarian roots, or my secret desire to be as cool as locavore hipsters. Or maybe I should just blame the changes to the urban agriculture regulations that were pushed through City Council last year. If it weren’t for that decision, there would be no question as to whether I could raise livestock in North Park.

But that seems to be what I’m about to get involved in. The plans for the chicken coop arrived earlier this week, and I’ll probably break ground on it by the time this column is published, God willing and the creek don’t rise (I don’t remember putting this piece of straw in my mouth, weird).

Despite the horror stories my mom tells about taking care of the chickens on her farm in Montana as a kid – cleaning up poop, getting pecked while collecting the eggs – I have fallen prey to this insane idea that turning a perfectly comfortable backyard into a miniature farm is the right thing to do.

My parents both grew up on farms and ranches and, despite having plenty of respect for that world and the people who inhabit it, they worked hard to make a living that allowed them the comfort of getting their food from a grocery store. Or even an upscale produce chain or local, organic, farmers market, but they certainly never would have considered returning to the business of sustenance agriculture just to get better-tasting eggs. Nor, I think, would they have though that any of their children would.

One of the reasons the chicken farming sounds like a not-so-terrible idea – and this has been confirmed by other urban chickeneers that I know – is that it’s fun and educational for the kids. What better way to teach children about where their food comes from? The processes of biology! Reproduction! The food chain! Death!

Oh, man. This could get heavy.

It’s true though; I don’t think my grandparents ever pulled any punches when they explained life and death to my parents. Cows, pigs and chickens froze to death or got sick and died. And if they didn’t, they were very likely to end up on the dinner table.

They also gave birth. It could be pretty grisly, and there would have been no way to hide it, even if my parents’ folks had wanted to. As for me, when a fish in our aquarium goes belly-up, I distract the kids and flush the carcass down the toilet, telling them that Mr. Fishy had to “go to the beach.” Likewise, I tell them that the mousetraps I set up in the pantry are just to scare the little rodents away with their snapping noises.

In terms of my qualifications as a farmer, I never had the chance to be in 4-H or anything, but I have a couple important skills under my belt. I have raised four dogs, only one of which had to be given up for adoption (when we finally accepted that he couldn’t be housebroken, a condition that made life in our ninth-floor apartment unpleasant for everyone).

I have overseen the drama of the fish tank, including dozens of births, a handful of deaths and several bouts of disease. I’m usually able to keep at least half of the vegetables I plant in the backyard alive until harvest time. Maybe three-eighths. Would you believe one-third?

I am also really good at squinting into the distance while sifting soil through my fingers, as if contemplating how I can best channel the forces of nature to my benefit. Clearly, I have some misgivings about this enterprise.

Am I just getting sucked into a fad that will cost me money, time and energy? Would I rather eat something “artisanal” and “locally-sourced” off of the menu at the latest trendy restaurant? What if the chickens don’t lay eggs? What if my girls don’t have any interest in them? What if they see a raccoon go on a chicken-killing spree and they never sleep again because of the horrible nightmares? Am I a poser?

These are concerns that my grandparents didn’t have the luxury of entertaining, and yet they are very real concerns to wannabe urban agrarians. And like my forebears facing droughts and seemingly endless winters, I will bravely confront them, my steely eyes focused on the distant horizon, just beyond the Sea World Sky Tower.

—Andy Hinds is a stay-at-home dad, blogger, freelance writer, carpenter and sometimes-adjunct writing professor. He is known on the internet as Beta Dad, but you might know him as that guy in North Park whose kids ride in a dog-drawn wagon. Read his personal blog at betadadblog.com. Reach him at betadad@gmail.com or @betadad on Twitter.

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