Opinion

Event reveals the complexities of chicken farming

By WILL NORTH

I have been trying to figure out how to write something funny about the Mother’s Day Chicken Coop Tour. Given the inherent silliness of the very fact of it, this is not easy. I mean, how do you top something like a chicken coop tour?

Think about it: Someone here on the island wakes up one morning, presumably a chicken farmer (are they farmers? Chickherds? Coopsters? I have no idea. I grew up in an apartment building in New York. We had pigeons pooping on the fire escape, but no chickens … that I know of). Anyway, this chicken wrangler wakes up one morning somewhere on the island, slaps his or her forehead, and exclaims: “I’ve got it! Mother’s Day and chicken coops! Perfect!”

Maybe this comes from eating way too many eggs, I don’t know.

And then this person manages to convince others on the island with chickens to participate. I’m tellin’ you, this is a marketing genius at the top of his or her game. Look at what they’re working with: Chickens!

So as I envision it, these folks flock together and hatch their plot to ambush the island with an event that seems so charming and, well, so Vashon, that people actually purchase tickets. Think about that: People buy tickets to see chicken coops. And chickens. It’s amazing. And may I point out that they can see the very same animals any day of the week at the IGA or the Thriftway, properly packaged?

So, of course, I bought tickets. “It’s Mother’s Day!” I said to the woman lately known as my wife. “Let’s go see chicken coops!” For reasons that escape me, this actually appealed to her. Thankfully, it was a lovely day and the chickens were out and about, pecking here, pecking there and generally making a moderately noisy nuisance of themselves. At one farm, they were busily weeding between rows of wine grapes. These are the chickens I would keep, for sure: add some herbs, some garlic, a splash of stock, some of the wine from those grapes, a plump braised chicken? Yum.

It was at this point that the woman lately known as my wife decided that she, too, wanted to raise chickens. I must admit that this was a modest improvement because, shortly after the last sheepdog trials up at Misty Island Farms, my wife decided she must have sheep. She believed this to be a genetic imperative, her being British and all. I reminded her that the house in which we now live, which was renovated for a handicapped person in a wheelchair, has no grass. It is surrounded by asphalt.

So now it was chickens. “We could build a coop!” she said.

I wondered at the we part of this notion, since I have absolutely no building skills. Nor, as a Londoner, does she.

Let me be clear: The chicken people (is that the right term?) I met were lovely folks. They and their birds seemed in perfect harmony. Pastoral heaven. But then there was the economics. On this island, you cannot have “free range” chickens because to eagles, hawks raccoons, and any number of other vicious varmints, including dogs, “free range” means “free food!”

So, as I learned from the coop tour, you need to build not just a coop, but also high fences and even a wire mesh roof to ward off the predators. I’m not too swift in the math department, but my “back of the envelope” calculation is that it costs just under a zillion dollars to protect a small flock of dim-as-a-post chickens.

That’s one hell of a lot of eggs.

— Will North is an island author with no farming skills. He does have a new novel, a murder mystery set in Britain, which will be released in June.

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