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Local Chickens: Food? Friend? Protector?

Are some of your neighbors chickens?

Years ago I read an article in Martha Stewart Living magazine about how Martha kept chickens so she’d always have a supply of fresh eggs; I drooled over the photos of her cute henhouse.  As a former , I admired Martha’s fancy-footed chickens that laid the pale blue, green and gray eggs. Designer eggs! I imagined myself the proud owner of a small flock of egg laying ladies.

Right.

I got over my infatuation after I read more about the practicalities of keeping chickens. But I get a kick out of it when I find people who keep chickens in the suburbs, round about where Martha grew up.

Here in Montclair, I know a few families with egg-laying chickens and there are probably many, many more. When my kids were in grammar school one family brought a turkey to school every fall for show and tell. The kids loved it! I met another family of fresh egg lovers after one of their hens went on the lam. I saw a fancy-footed hen, feathers aflutter and muttering importantly to herself, motoring down the sidewalk of my very busy street. I burst out laughing.

Just recently I met yet-another Montclair family that loves fresh eggs. My daughter Tory’s friend Sarah has 11 hens and only the white one looks like a “regular chicken” to me. The three pale red-feathered hens have really big bottoms; Big Mama, who looks like a dozen peeps could hide under her feathered skirts, is the oldest.  A couple of pinstripe-wearing ladies are really energetic; they rushed through the enclosure’s gate when we opened it, beating the rest of the hens out, while the brown-feathered ladies who brought up the rear were pretty chill. And the darker redheads? Don’t get me started; those chicks are so lean they make J Wow of Jersey Shore fame look fat; clearly, those redheads don’t hang out much with the apple-bottomed chicks.

Probably one of the strangest meet-ups with a chicken I’ve had, though, was in Kearny, N.J. Tory and I pulled into a gas station for a fill-up, and before I’d even shut off the engine, a skinny chicken, more dirty gray than white and with more tail feathers missing than present, ran at top speed toward our car. She squawked. She flapped her wings. She flared her eyes at us. That chicken was guarding her territory! The gas attendant called out to her in Spanish. The chicken immediately rushed up to the attendant in a flurry of feathers and noise; from then on, man and chicken kept up a running dialog. As we pulled out, the man casually picked up the chicken and sauntered away. That was my first encounter with a guard chicken.

Do you have chickens living in your neighborhood? Or better yet, have you encountered a guard chicken?!

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