Not deferential enough: Chickens little
by Gina Hamilton
I dropped off 15 copies of a 10-page application to get a site review to go before the Planning Board to get a waiver to get permission to get a chicken coop down at Turning Tide Cottage. We already had permission from our immediate neighbors, who might be considered to be impacted, if you can consider fresh, free organic eggs an "impact". But as the Planning Director pointed out, the current good neighbors who are offering to come over and play with the chickens and feed them their table scraps aren't necessarily the same neighbors who will be living in the houses ten years from now, and we expect our Great Chicken Experiment to go on indefinitely. Our chickens will have names. They can live to be ten years old, about three years after they stop laying eggs reliably. So this is a Committment, that's what it is, and it's not just about free breakfast foods.
We're an organic little urban farm, and we're not the only one. In our little neighborhood, we all seem to be Common Ground Fair types ... there are, in a two block area, four chicken coops, and with mine, soon to be five. I don't know how many organic gardens there are, but I suspect quite a few.
The new Planning Director, Andrew Deci, helped me put together the application, and as he comes from a farm, I do appreciate all the help.
I also called the Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water District to get some information I needed about storage of the chicken poop. When I told the guy over there I was going to have four to six chickens, he was a little surprised that we were being asked to jump through all the hoops we are going through at the moment. "You could probably keep them in the house and no one would be the wiser," he said. I said I couldn't imagine keeping six hens in the library, but it could, I imagine, come to that. In any case, the guy from the District told me that we could do what we had planned, which is to compost the waste along with garden waste, and get some glorious organic compost out of the stuff.
Chicken plan. Check. Chicken poop plan. Check.
The chicken coop will be built by a guy named Mark who calls his business "Coops of Hazard" and lives down in Standish or one of those places. He'll deliver the thing when he gets the go-ahead. We'll be building a chicken yard around the coop to hide it from view of the nearest neighbor, even though the current neighbor doesn't care. The yard will be tall enough to allow me to go in and spend time with the birds, and clean up after them, and a light chicken wire will protect them from overhead predators, too. The fence will be sunk down about 18 inches to keep anything from digging underneath, which was the tragic way our little quail Toffee met his Maker in the tiny old coop that exists out there now. One of our foster sons brought him home from the Common Ground Fair, and he lived inside all winter, only getting a few days of relative freedom before something ... maybe a weasel ... got him in the late spring. We have learned our lesson. There will also be a low fence in the front of the house to shield the view of the chickens from the road ... not so much for the neighbors, who again, couldn't care less, but for their four-legged companions who might be tempted to come dashing over to see the chickens up close and personal, to their owners' embarrassment.
The chicks will be of the rather nice and heritage Barred Plymouth Rock variety. They're big, for chickens ... about four to five pounds when fully grown, and are that sweet black and white speckled type. They will lay brown eggs, and are good layers. We chose barred rock, as they're called for short, because they are cold-hardy and are known to be quite friendly, as chickens go. We're naming four of the hens after our nieces (and they may be learning about it today). Their names will be Molly, Huntar, Rachel, and Olivia. The other two will have slightly more exotic names. I'll call one Hepzibah, which is what I often call our foster daughters when they are acting "missish". If I ever had a cow, I'd have called her Hepzibah, which, for those of you who remember your American Literature, is the name of the old maid in House of the Seven Gables. Since the Planning Director made it very clear that I wouldn't be getting a permit for a cow, I guess I can use the name for a hen. Chris wants to name one something biblical which neither of us can recall at this moment, but we'll probably remember before the chicks get here.
Chicken yard and coop. Check. Chicks and their names. Check.
The old coop will be coming indoors to serve as our "brooding box" for a few weeks after the chicks arrive, and we will have to have a red heat lamp and a feeder and a waterer, and some feed and grit. The chicks will live inside until they start feathering out in their adult plummage, which can be up to six weeks after hatching, and until they're big enough to keep themselves warm. Then they will move into their nice, brand new coop, in their nice, safe yard.
All in all, I think we've planned this more than we planned for the arrival of our son and heir. But then, he wasn't going to be living out in the yard.