My part in micro-economics: backyard chickens

This post isn't about the future of big-J Journalism.

Or about Big Ideas.

But an editor does other things in his day than edit. And sometimes what he does is get hooked into a Big Idea anyway that is conveyed via Journalism.

So that's more than enough technical justification to write about my newfound interest in chickens.

Check out today's New York Times article on urban poultry. Earlier, there was this Boston Globe piece on the same.

Of course, the Monitor was there before the in-town rooster crowed -- way back in October, our own Eoin O'Carroll had this early-bird report on backyard henkeepers.

Quoting Eoin:

"Many large US cities, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Seattle apparently never thought to ban the domesticated fowl within city limits. These cities have served as an incubator of sorts for the emerging movement, in which urban henkeepers post online tips on building coops, caring for the birds, and fending off raccoons and other predators....
"The benefits of keeping hens are myriad, say proponents. According to the website BackyardChickens, considered authoritative in the online urban-chicken-enthusiast pecking order, three hens will net you, on average, two eggs a day. And the eggs are said to be tastier and more nutritious than the ones you can get at a supermarket. Hens also perform some gardening work by eating weeds and pests and depositing a high-quality fertilizer. Many also claim that the birds make great pets, but this is debatable."

I am the egg man

So let me connect the dots: In the interests of boring you with a little non-newsy information, I'd like to give you an occasional update on a folly that my wife, Robin, and I are about to embark on:

Yes, we're getting into the chicken racket.

I could say that acquiring and raising chickens is all about my involvement in the localvore food movement. Or that I'm saving the planet. Or that the economy is what prompted this. All are important, but claiming them as reasons would be a little too grand.

When you live in the Northeast, with its short growing season, you realize that trade and commerce with the richly productive farmlands of California, Texas, Florida, Mexico, and other sunny climes is the only thing that keeps you in arugula and fresh Kalamata olives and away from dark cold February evenings in front of a meager bowl of sad old root vegetables.

At any rate, six chicks are on the way via our local Agway in Plymouth, Mass., from which we also acquired a brand new and very handsome and much too expensive coop.

My mom, who grew up in a small town in Texas, has had a good chortle at her aging Yuppie son's attempts at animal husbandry. She reminded me that where she grew up, people would hammer together a ramshackle shed, or use old cars as coops, or just let the birds nest in the trees.

But every boomer has a soft spot for going back to the land. Check out what my Monitor colleague Alex Marks is building in her backyard.

A peaceable kingdom

Anyway, the coop is stylin'. It is now in our backyard, awaiting its occupants, which should be arriving next week. In preparation for the blessed event, Robin and I are trying to figure out how we keep the peace between our Scotties, Molly and Boone, and the chicks. And how we keep the raccoons who lurk in nearby trees at bay.

I spent some time in the Middle East, so I have passing familiarity with enemy-of-my-enemy logic. Scotties may not be friendly to fowl, but they can deter varmints. That's the plan. Scotties deter raccoons and cats and other intruders. And a good fence makes good neighbors of the terriers and the poultry.

For news justification, I'll keep you updated on the economics of this venture. Here's the first equation:

Coop + Fence + Feed + Chick-sitters ... Well, I won't calculate it yet. But I think you get the picture.

These will be incredibly expensive eggs.

You can follow this blog -- and keep up with the chickens -- at Twitter.

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