Omnivore - Chicks in the city

The fresh appeal of urban hens

By Wyatt Williams

Last December, Amy and Jason Cattanach arrived at their local post office for a special delivery. It was a Friday afternoon, one that they had been planning from the comfort of their Decatur home for months. Though they were thrilled that this day had come, the post office hardly noticed. “They handed the package over like a box of shoes,” Amy laughs. Inside the cardboard box were 26 newborn chicks, mail-ordered through the Internet, bunched together in a noisy bedlam of chirping and fluffy activity. After splitting the chicks with a neighbor and relative, their family of five now keeps a flock of seven hens in the back yard.

Humans started domesticating chickens in Southeast Asia, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 years ago. With respect to that history, Amy and Jason aren’t doing anything new, though it is something of a fresh approach. Keeping a flock in the back yard means that eggs travel a short walk to the kitchen table, often the same week they’re laid. Compared with our disastrous infrastructure of factory farms and semi-trucks that writers such as Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have been critiquing in recent years, the urban hen trend makes perfect sense for folks who are trying to eat more local and seasonal food. It is, though, a bit more commitment than putting a couple of tomato plants in the ground.

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)