Backyard Beasts – the trend towards self-sufficiency

I recently read Morgan Ostler’s entertaining article of Friday, November 6, 2009 in the Campbell River Mirror “Will council chicken out on backyard hen bylaw?” regarding allowing chickens in city backyards.  This is great news for townsfolk.  I have been living in the Strathcona District for the past few years and several of my neighbours have chickens.  It is quite pleasurable to walk down the road to ‘shop’ for eggs and it encourages me to get out for a walk.  Sometimes there is also garden produce, and one of my neighbours used to raise meat chickens, so I could also get some excellent poultry now and again.twochi1-optimized

The idea of keeping livestock in one’s backyard in town is by no means new.  While in university, I was introduced to an article written by one of my professors, Bettina Bradbury, called “Pigs, Cows and Boarders, Non-wage forms of survival among Montreal families, 1861-1891”.  The article explains how as people migrated from the farm to the city to try to make a living, they brought some of their habits with them, including the habit of raising their own livestock as a food source.  Just as Morgan points out in her article that raising chickens is a step toward self sufficiency and keeping down food costs, in Bradbury’s article she states that “for some of Montreal’s working class, a pig represented a source of cash or of food that would be available in times of unemployment and need – a valuable supplement to a low, unsteady and irregular wage income”.

How often in life things come in full circle.  While we might have laughed at the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ and Granny hanging on to Ozark survival techniques while living in an upperclass neighbourhood, this just might be the wave of the future.  In fact I heard – and I think this was via Morgan too, that in Ireland they have come up with designer chicken coops to accommodate those who want to raise the little birds, but don’t want to annoy the neighbours or ruin the esthetics of the backyard with a ramshackle shed.

Speaking of annoying the neighbours, one misconception I have come across is that if you are going to have chickens, this would include a rooster.  Roosters can be bothersome as they chose to crow loudly at ungodly hours.  The good news is though, that unless you are planning to raise little chicks, you don’t need a rooster.  A hen will lay eggs without her male counterpart being present, she only needs him to fertilize the eggs.  So rest assured that when you see your neighbour bring home the pre-fab coop and the laying hens, the only sound you will hear is a gentle cluck, cluck, cluck.

Image this in your yard!

Image this in your yard!

I recall that as a child in school, we were asked to hear how our parents survived the Depression years of the 1930’s.  My mother told me that she didn’t really notice that there was a Depression or lack of food, because her family was on a farm and raised their own livestock and produce.  She figured that it was the people in cities and towns who suffered the lack of food.  The media tells us that we are suffering through a depressed economy, and there are many today who are trying to follow the hundred mile diet and consume more local produce.  I say ‘hurray to the chicken eaters’.  Get rid of the non nourishing grass in your yard, and replace it with vegetable gardens and beneficial birds.

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