The Backyard Chicken City Girl
If someone gets a dog, you don’t really think twice about it, do you? You pretty much know what’s involved. But if some fellow urbanite gets chickens, everyone does a double take. That’s what happened two years ago in a quiet Moncton neighbourhood.
City girls can play farmer too
Caitlin Wilson is a bubbly artist and waitress who grew up in downtown Halifax and now calls Moncton home. She is, by her own admission, a real city girl. Yet she’s a city girl who was raised by a hippy mother. She rides horses. She believes in local and sustainable food. She shops at the farmer’s market. She has a small garden. But what really pushed this city girl over the line into the realm of urban farmer were the laying hens which one day appeared in her backyard.
Moments after the city had legalized urban chickens, Caitlin’s friend had gotten twenty feathered egg machines off of someone on Kijiji. Knowing that Caitlin had been talking about having her own chickens for a while, the friend dumped two of the twenty chickens into her lap. There was no coop yet. Fred, Caitlin’s boyfriend, got to work building one.
Within no time, Caitlin had two happy hens laying eggs and hanging out with her when she gardened. Then, the whole neighbourhood got involved. “My neighbours are all really good about the chickens,” Caitlin admits. “Nobody was mad. It’s become a bit of a neighbourhood thing. I have tenants downstairs who love the chickens. All the kids from the neighbourhood are friends with these kids downstairs so I’ve got all these random kids who come visit the chickens and try to feed them. I like that the kids come over because how many city kids get to experience chickens? They at least get to see where eggs come from.”
A flock of one’s own
Caitlin’s small urban flock has grown to a total of four hens. There’s Stella, Agnes, Blanche and Edna. “It’s all about the old lady names,” she says, laughing. With this many birds, she has a near endless supply of eggs, a bounty which is shared with the whole neighbourhood. But even more important than quantity is the quality. “The flavour is not even comparable to grocery store eggs,” Caitlin assured me. “I let them molt just because it feels more natural and so I don’t have eggs for a month. I have to buy market eggs. And I know they’re good, they come from a sustainable source, I’ve talked to the farmer. But the yolks aren’t bright orange like the eggs from my chickens.”
Now, being someone who’s obsessed with food in general and who’s had some experience with farm animals, this got me thinking. Seeing Caitlin’s setup, I have more than enough space for a coop in my new yard. If this means I have top-notch eggs on tap, is it worth convincing my wife that we should have a flock of our own? The issue, I thought, would hinge on the ease of caring for these animals. But Caitlin brushed aside that concern. “It’s easier than having a dog,” she said. “They’re super low maintenance. The worst part - and I don’t think I’d be able to do it again - was getting rid of Clementine who was Blanche’s sister. It just destroyed my soul. But she hadn’t laid an egg since I’d had her. I was trying to make the farmer decision and it was awful. I felt so bad. I took her to my uncle to slaughter her for me because he had had chickens for ages. He put her in a plastic bag for me. Back at home, Fred plucked and gutted her. He didn’t know what he was doing so it took him a good two hours. And the house smelled for a week! It was awful. This all goes back to me being an epic city girl.”
Regardless of this setback and her incapacity to eat the carcass of her former hen which still waits in the freezer, Caitlin loves having laying hens. Unlike every other animal one can raise in the city - at least here in Canada - they are a useful pet. Food never gets any fresher than when it’s produced within ten steps of your back door.