By Leah Zerbe, an online editor at Rodale.com.
I lived a pretty dysfunctional farm life growing up. The fields were filled with corn or soy commodity crops, not delicious, nourishing people food. My late grandfather's pigsty and chicken coop were long-abandoned and falling apart, and no one particularly cared to fix them up. The farm was livestock-less, gardenless, and for all intents and purposes, we were living like your run-of-the-mill suburban family who just happened to be plopped onto a 65-acre chunk of land. In full disclosure, I did not learn how to plant a tomato until I was 27 years old.
None of this seemed particularly odd to me until I moved away, and lived in Philadelphia for several years, and started paying more attention to where my food came from. Then, the miracle: Harvest Local Foods' Meet Your Farmer Day!
Once I shook the hand that harvested my rutabaga, it was a done deal. In less than a year and a half, my husband and I were living back on the farm, figuring out how to grow and harvest three acres of vegetables by hand, and, perhaps most rewardingly, raising about 40 amazing, entertaining chickens for eggs. Because of just one meaningful afternoon, I permanently traded in a life of fancy city restaurant dinners and Coach handbags for a life of dealing with dirt and chicken crap. And life is good!
Learning to farm would not be nearly as fun if it weren't for our small flock of heritage breed chickens.
Here are 5 ways backyard chickens change your life:
1. You're scare shi*less.
Sure, they're just tiny fuzz balls of chirping cuteness. But day-old chicks are scary! It's up to you to keep them alive, and I obsessed over this fact for a full two weeks. I didn't sleep, partially due to the fact that we set up the brooder in a nearby spare bedroom. "Wait! Was that a distressed chirp? Is one hurt? Is one being crushed by the freak show Jersey Giant chick? Are they drinking enough water?"
You learn to wipe caked crap off of their backsides (otherwise, it can become plugged up and they die), sometimes you hold them until they fall asleep in your palm, and you generally just fall in love your flock in those first few days. Dark circles develop under your eyes. It feels like you're a sleep-deprived new mom. You are. It's worth it.
This same wave of uneasiness may return in a few weeks when you move the gawky, feathered, teenage version of the chicks into an outdoor coop. But eventually, you chill, and learn to appreciate the fact that your chickens are living better than 99 percent of chickens on the planet.
For the rest of this article and more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.