Many of the best things in life are unplanned. My chickens, for instance, came along like that, and they have been a most pleasant surprise. It all started with a donation. The Lake Union Crew Outreach Foundation does fabulous work, so when they asked me to donate food for their fundraiser, I couldn’t say no. Dropping off the meal, I saw a beautiful chicken coop for auction. Turns out the Lake Union Crew’s founder, Rome Ventura, had built the chicken coop. Seeing my interest, she offered to make one for me. She even hand-delivered it to my Seattle home.
By the spring of 2012, I had moved to my farmhouse on Vashon Island where my daughter, Olivia, got excited about raising chickens. Together we chose eight assorted chicks. We kept them inside for two months, nurturing those fuzzy yellow cuties. We named them and watched over them, somewhat obsessively. As they grew, so did our interest in getting them outside—who knew they’d become so pungent! Finally, we were ready to break in Rome Ventura’s handmade coop.
I placed the coop between four hazelnut trees to provide shelter from extreme sun. I also hoped it would provide some cover from eagles, a fearsome predator on Vashon. I built an 8-by-12-foot covered run for them so they didn’t have to stay “cooped” up all the time. This seemed like lots of space—until they got even bigger. My two dogs weren’t quite sure what to make of the chickens at first. There was a bit of a stand-off, but after eight months everyone seemed to respect each other. I started letting “the girls” roam the property. That was a happy day in the life of a proud chicken mom. They roamed the farm finding bugs, grass and weeds to eat.
Then tragedy struck—raccoons scaled one of the hazelnut trees and carried seven of my chickens away to feed their young. I was heartbroken.
Fighting off thoughts of being unworthy, I moved the coop to a better location. My two small dogs, all bark and no bite, took on guardian roles. With loud barks and a quick sprint, they now chase away any raccoon or cat that wanders onto the farm. The hawks and eagles have also seemed to take note.
Over the last six years, I have gone from the original eight chickens, down to one, added three, back to two, added four, and now I am very happy with the six that I’ve had for the past two years. I have two Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs) and four variously colored Araucana (olive green to baby-blue eggs) all sporting that famous feathery beard. The oldest is Dulce, the queen, who was from the first batch. Introducing new chickens is quite a process, and it has taken a year for this team to blend. The chickens leave the coop around 7:30 a.m. to see what the night rain or morning dew has brought to the surface for their dining pleasure. They roam the whole farm, traveling in a tribe. They don’t eat my flowers, but they love my veggie starts so I had to fence the vegetable garden. Sometimes they fly over six feet up to the fence post and drop in!
My chickens are well fed, no surprise there—organic grain, leftover Macrina bread and vegetable scraps are their main diet. In exchange, they produce 3 to 6 eggs a day as a group. The eggs are richer in taste than a typical supermarket egg, with creamy, bright orange yolks. You notice the difference right away when eating them cooked plainly or baking with them. Aioli’s get a brilliant color from the bright yolks, lemon butter cakes and vanilla custards take on a golden hue, everything is more delicious with fresh eggs. My girls join any outdoor dinner gathering. You can’t pick them up, but two will let you pet them. They cluck, coo, trill and peep as though carrying on a lively conversation. As the light diminishes, they make their way back to the coop, and I close them in to keep them safe.
I love my girls!