By Monica Marcu
My (love) story with chickens did not really begin on a positive note. At all. As a kid I was already demonstrating curiosity and inquisitiveness (necessary qualities for the scientist I was to become) by experimenting with my favorite “lab” animal- the chicken! It‘s just that the “lab” was my grandmother’s yard and the animal – which I used to release with wings tightened from increasing heights in order to study its landing strategies – was, more often than not, succumbing to the experiment. Consequently I was banned from my grandmom’s premises until I gained some common sense and sensibility. But I swear – I really loved all animals! Except for the chickens.
Believe me, I later paid dearly for my youth’s sins by cleaning and gathering a lot of chicken poop. And I still do it today, no fuss about it, because you see, we truly adore chickens and keep them around. I started keeping my own chickens some 12 years ago. Now we have four, plus a great, red, brave rooster. We used to have 16 at a point in time, but we lost some to predators; that is all my husband’s fault, he insists that chicks have to be very free range, even in the forest surrounding us.
Our chickens have nice, suggestive names. We have an almost-blind feathered lady, 2 years old, who my husband “creatively” named “The Blind One.” Of course I changed that and she is actually called Mimi. She loyally and regularly lays tasty, wholesome eggs. Mimi was born in our house, hatched from an egg laid by our own hen, as so many other chickens we had. Believe it or not, Mimi is a hero. Despite her handicap, through some incredible feat, she was the only one in a group of 5 who escaped a sneaky predator some months ago. I was thinking maybe Mimi was endowed with some compensating qualities such as intuition, and when the (unknown) predator approached them she was already hidden under some bushes. Just when we lost all hope to find those chickens, Mimi slowly, wobbled toward us from under some ferns… Oh, how I hugged Mimi that day!
Gustav was a totally different beast! All white, proud and crazily brave he used to fight any intruder who endangered his beloved harem of 3 chickens, or us. He would sound the alarm with his gloriously strong voice whenever a foreigner entered our yard. He fought the neighbors’ dogs (although he lost every time and had to be rescued from unconsciousness and “hospitalized” for 1-2 weeks) invading our yard. His arrival to our house is part of the family history. One day my husband returned with a box under his arm. Once on the deck, he victoriously opened the box just to release a young rooster in front of me. The ex-prisoner shook his feathers and straightened himself up, then looked to me lovingly, and without any hesitation he jumped right on my left shoulder! Obviously it was love at first sight. We became inseparable. He followed me everywhere in the yard, and, since I had a basement office with windows at the deck’s level, he often came to peek affectionately through the windows while I was working, just to make sure I was fine. Only my husband was disappointed a bit about this whole story, no, not from jealousy but because he had some other, more of a culinary nature thoughts on Gustav’s future. Such as goulash with paprika… Luckily my neighbors did not know that because, you see, Gustav was well beloved and famous on our street. Even if we lived in a posh suburb of Seattle at the time, chickens and roosters were allowed within city limits and people were starting to embrace them more and more. I often asked my neighbors if Gustav did not bother them in the morning with his loud singing, but the answer was invariably the same: “no, not at all, it is so nice to hear him, it gives us a feeling that we are in the countryside!”
When we first arrived on that street we were the only ones raising chickens (and pigeons), but after a few years my neighbors crushed us – many of them built sophisticated coops and chicken yards, some looking like castles! Our humble chicken quarter could not compare with those. Nevertheless, there was a silent competition among us – who had the prettiest chickens, and we always won that. Our winning team – Nora, Mary and Sura were diverse and beautiful in nature and personality, and delivered gorgeously free range, organic eggs every day. We called them “the three musketeers”. Nora was fluffy, soft and white like a cloud, Mary was red, fiery and swift, while Sura (which means grey) was heavy, greedy and unstoppable (at eating). I would not return from a trip without bringing them treats such as bred pieces form a restaurant meal or plane cockies.
The most famous of all was our dear rooster Novu, who once attended the city council meeting and became a hero in the local newspaper. The city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously that evening to abandon the idea that would have limited citizens’ rights to own roosters. Hearing about this upcoming meeting I invited (sort of) Novu, a large bag and my husband to the event. Nine other citizens with similar opinion came to urge the commission to “keep the city’s hands off their birds”. Oh, yeah! When I took Novu out of the bag, many of the commission members were so surprised by Novu’s beauty. Most had never seen a rooster before! Sound familiar? Politicians debating things they have never experienced? They came to pet and talk with him, and that is how we won the commission that night.
We attended the Oct. 13th McBride Council meeting (this time without our rooster) and had the pleasure to meet Robert Erickson, another bird lover. He presented strong arguments pro-urban chickens, on behalf of Sarah Rau. His presentation was clear and strong and we agreed on all points he presented. We shared from our experience concerning the policy of places like Seattle and Portland, where one can keep not only chickens but even goats within the city limits.
Council tabled the discussion around a backyard chicken bylaw until early 2016. Let’s hope that next year, the McBride Council will support this cause.