I’m not a naturally impulsive person, but when I saw those fuzzy little peepers—in their myriad hues of cuteness—basking under incubator lamps in a feed store in rural Iowa, I couldn’t resist. It didn’t hurt that my 11-year-old daughter was already on her knees, oohing and ahhing, right next to them. I decided right then on the spot that my daughter needed to have a “farm experience,” like I did spending summers on my grandparents’ farm growing up. And, of course, she couldn’t have just one chicken; she had to have two, so those chicks would be buddies.
Never mind that this was the middle of winter, and that we’d have to somehow keep the little critters at their above 90-degree incubation temperature in the car for the entire 6-hour drive back to Chicago. (The chicks ended up sleeping…waking up to eat…sleeping…waking up to eat…sleeping in a sweater on my daughter’s lap the entire way and were toasty warm.)
My suburban kitchen was transformed into “the chicken experiment.” So, for Easter last year, my daughter had real live chicks in her basket that were a lot more fun than those rubbery marshmallow ones in many kids’ baskets. SJ (Some Kind of Jumper) and LePeep became members of our family—well-behaved members that shocked visitors by roosting quietly on the top of their cage.
Fast-forward to the summer, when the chickens were getting a bit too big for my kitchen. A dear friend had wanted to raise chickens for egg-laying purposes for a long time. But, of course, that takes females, and we had no idea (not being chicken ranchers from birth) what gender SJ and LePeep were.
They obliged by laying eggs to prove their gender. Soon our friend had built them a chicken “penthouse suite” attached to the barn on her unincorporated property. She decided that SJ and LePeep needed some additional friends, so, in July, five more varieties of chicks arrived for us at the post office. With their wild peeping and pecking through the airholes in their box, the post office clerk was more than happy to hand them over to my thrilled daughter. They were loved immediately and appropriately named by their personalities and colors: Sassy Sally, Disco Bandit, Carmel of Delight, Sweet and Sour, and Sunny Daisy.
Fast-forward to the end of September, when all five beloved chicks (who were not quite as well behaved as the first two) were much too busy for my kitchen and needed to move to the chicken penthouse. My daughter and I continued our after-school treks over to visit our beloved pets and enjoy their antics.
Then one day, a county officer informed our friend that she couldn’t have chickens. No matter that they were beloved pets who stayed on their own property, didn’t need to be walked, didn’t crow to wake up the neighbors, made no noise except for gentle clucking that couldn’t be heard a few feet away, and didn’t even leave doo-doo presents on anyone else’s yard like other neighborhood dogs. Chickens were just not “acceptable” anywhere outside in our county—even in a barn in an unincorporated area where there had originally been a chicken coop when the property was purchased.
My daughter, with visions of her pet chickens in somebody’s soup pot, spent hours re-researching the ground rules for pets in our county. Nowhere did it say specifically you couldn’t have chickens (only that you couldn’t have cockfights!), and we had met all the other ground rules for pet care. “It’s an unwritten rule,” we were finally told. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that the county was exerting so much energy and time on…well, chickens. Didn’t they have other problems to solve that were larger than the crime of loving your pet chickens? Would you give away Fido? Or Fifi? Then how could we give away our little treasures? But alas, the softly clucking birds were to be evicted from their penthouse.
Except for one loophole. The chickens could stay if they were an active 4-H project for a child. Never mind that they were already a larger-than-life project with the numerous documentation, photos of growth stages, feeding charts, and hours of all-day and all-night care my daughter had given those chickens for the past 9 months. She’d even slept in her sleeping bag next to their indoor coop, when they were babies. She’d most likely spent more time and researched more about those chickens than any paid chicken scientist!
So now my daughter’s little respites are filled with writing her official “My Pet Chicken Report.” (As opposed to the nonofficial one she’s been living for the past 9 months.) But when I see her sitting in the woodchip-strewn floor of the chicken penthouse, cuddling her precious pets who flock to her like she’s Mama, with Carmel always perched proudly on her head, all the hassle is worth it.
Ramona Cramer Tucker has been on the cutting-edge of publishing for over 29 years, in a wide variety of positions, including: Senior Editor, Tyndale House Publishers; Editorial Director, Harold Shaw Publishers (now WaterBrook/Random House); Editor, Today's Christian Woman magazine and Executive Editor, Virtue magazine (Christianity Today, International); and as a freelancer for Simon & Schuster, Random House, Viking-Penguin, Zondervan, Nelson, Baker/Revell, InterVarsity, David C. Cook, Howard, Barbour, Summerside/Guideposts, and other publishers. She is Adjunct Faculty for the English Department at Wheaton College and the cofounder and Editorial Director of OakTara (www.oaktara.com).