Owning Chickens: Outlaws for a Good Cause

Reader Contribution by Geoff Taylor

In the early hours before the sun rises, especially on a rainy day in the Oregon mountains, the lucky insomniac can find a place of unspeakable, timeless bliss in his alone hours, with only a cat for company.

They used to be gods in Egypt, but in 21st Century America, they’re just companion animals and living, shedding indoor decoration. Yume (it means “dream” in Japanese) is resting on the windowsill, pushing away sleep like me. He neither writes, nor does he toil or spin, but his presence is conducive to the flow. Occasionally, we have long discussions. Recently, I discovered that we both like eggs. He suggested that I write about it.

Yesterday, I made an omelet with three eggs. The bald fact of it would seem to be no big deal, except: These eggs were one day old, with huge orange yolks, laid by free-range hens. But wait, there’s more. Those chickens live on the farm of a world-class artist. Don’t know how much you pay for eggs, but this dozen was delivered to my door for the amazingly low price of $2.50, and they’re such good eggs that I’ve taken them to local, secret restaurants and paid for my breakfasts with one dozen — green, brown and utterly organic, seething with good art and wholesomeness. These are not ordinary eggs.

By doing so, I’ve probably violated some ordinance or other, relating to public food. OK. My conscience is clear; I watched those eggs being picked from under happy, free-range, bug-eating chickens, and put into recycled cardboard cartons by the hands of a genius artist. Then I hand-carried them in a cooler to a little restaurant that is locally famed for excellent breakfasts, talked with someone, and that’s how a dozen eggs went into the food chain without government authorization. The diners who ate them probably felt better all day, without knowing why.

It is becoming fashionable to raise chickens, even in urban environments. I happen to know firsthand that the city of Forest Grove, Ore., prohibits keeping “farm livestock” within the city limits; yet, I also know outlaws who do so. And there is a movement afoot to change the rule, if it has not already been rescinded by now …

Chickens. Eggs. Manure for the garden. If there is a downside to the ownership of chickens, someone please explain it to me. In her classic book, The Egg and I, author Betty MacDonald made a hilarious case for not living on a chicken ranch. A thousand chickens is arguably too many. But everyone should have a dozen chickens. They’re far more soothing to the jangled city psyche than colorful fish swimming in a tank on a bookshelf. Hens make a soothing clucking noise, and they give you eggs on your breakfast plate that are better and fresher than Bill Gates eats, unless he also keeps chickens.