Monday, March 17, 2008

Life In The Slow Lane, WITH CHICKENS!

So, for several months now, I've been reading, somewhat enviously, the adventures and misadventures of people who've chosen to live a "slow" lifestyle. Basically, what this means is a way of life that creates less of an impact on your environment, your living space, your finances, etc. Some people stopped shopping, some stopped consuming fossil fuels, some stopped buying prepared foods or non-local food. Easily one of my all-time favorites of this fascinating group of blogs is titled, "These Days In French Life." Warning: Make sure you have some time on your hands before you visit, because you WILL get lost.

Riana is an American food writer who now lives in rural South France with her husband and baby daughter, and she is, frankly, amazing. The woman wastes NOTHING. I've followed her cooking over a fire, not shopping for half a year, and giving up toilet paper (I'm telling you, she's serious about this). She also has the energy of ten of me. Behold this excerpt from a recent post, in which she describes what she has going on in her oven in one afternoon:

I filled the oven to brim since it takes up the same electricity as a load of clothes in the dryer. Besides the chocolate tarte (with leaf lard crust to die for), roasted three beets with olive oil and garlic (the bright red beet skins saved to make Easter egg dye), a butternut squash cubed and roasted, duck broth and carrot top antioxidant soup (in the oven!) for our duck won ton soup tonight, a millefeuille of golden carrots, sweet onions and fish for lunch and duck l’orange salad.

There has never been a moment that I have not admired the people who live this way--frugally, responsibly, close to the earth and being good stewards of what they've been given. Back when Chris told me that her family, which is roughly three times larger than mine, produces something like a third of the trash that my family produces (yes, this means that we're trashier than Chris' family), it was a huge wake-up call. That's when I really started noticing things like excessive packaging. I thought I'd been pretty alert before, but I was kidding myself.

Since we've moved to this house, we've been progressively "de-cluttering," though as soon as we get rid of a truckload or two, another pile seems to materialize in its place--we have a long way to go and our work cut out for us before we get down to a more minimalist place. I have never been a big shopper (my husband has that role in our relationship), but I cut the flow of money further, where I could, and continue to look for ways to do that. Case in point, tonight's trip to the grocery store with my fistful of coupons, which yielded $212 worth of goods for which I paid $92. There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction in that, but once you start down this road, you begin to constantly look for more, for ways to do better. Saving money on groceries and shampoo is not benefiting me if I'm turning around and spending those savings on books and magazines and restaurant sushi. It's my intention, in a couple of months, once Alex's truck is paid off and Bella is out of private preschool, to begin socking my grocery savings into a savings account, so that there's a more tangible result to show for all my scrimping and stockpiling. Right now, however, we are broker than broke (thanks, tornado season!), so that will have to wait.

In the meantime, I'm learning about the "slow food" movement, and getting ready to plant vegetables and raise chickens. That's right. Since we live on a giant rock now, I'm going to try some box gardens (thanks to my Twitterbuds who recommended "Square Foot Gardening") to raise organic veggies, to eat in-season and to stock our freezer for later in the year. But the important thing here is the chickens. I am beyond excited about the chickens, and if you ask my husband, he will tell you that I can't shut up about the chickens.

I had a small flock of Araucanas and Sebrights once before, along with a 3-foot-tall Dominique or Barred Rock (not sure which) rooster. They fell, one by one, to the poodles. I'd let the dogs out to play, and the next thing I knew, one of those darn chickens would have flown into the dog yard and gotten herself rapidly devoured. I have to give the poodles points for efficiency, though, because there was never anything left but a pile of feathers and a gallbladder. The rooster...well, I know for a fact that he went down fighting. His name was Gary, and he was enormous, and used to actually go for little constitutionals on the street where I lived. It was a sight to see, Gary strutting down the road and back home again. One day he just vanished, and I assumed that he'd fallen victim to fowl play (HAR!) while on one of his walks. Around that same time, Delta lost her collar and had several deep scratches on her face--I thought she'd gotten her head stuck in the fence in front of the brambles, or something. I think you see where this is going.

A couple of weeks later, while clearing the tall grass behind the barn, I discovered all that remained of Gary. I almost wish I had a picture, because words cannot convey the horror...there, in the underbrush, was a flash of purple. Delta's collar, which had been pulled off over her head. And firmly and forever affixed to that collar were two giant chicken feet, clutching it like macabre yellow vice-grips. I can't even imagine the scene that culminated in poor Gary being separated from his feet, but to this day I admire his tenacity. I did not reclaim the collar--I figured Gary had earned the trophy, even if it was posthumously.

So now, new chickens are coming! This time, there will be a dedicated and secure chicken yard, most likely with netting over the top so they can't fly out. On April 7th, I'll be receiving a tidy little flock of day-old Buff Orpington chicks. They're beautiful birds, and a heritage breed, not a modern commercial cross. Most of the cockerels will become meat, and the best hens will be used for eggs and to hopefully reproduce and sustain our flock, so that we're not just buying a new flock of chicks every year. What I like about this arrangement, aside from the potential sustainability, is that it gives me an opportunity to really take responsibility for what I feed my family. Even most "organic" chicken is cage-raised (egg farming seems to be even worse), and it's almost impossible to know the conditions in which the animals are kept. I'll know that these birds are healthy and happy, that they're fed natural, wholesome, species-appropriate food, that no pesticides or antibiotics or hormones are involved. I'll know that the animals who serve me live a robust life and meet a humane end. The meat and eggs they produce will be better for us, better for the environment, and in the big scheme of things, taking one family, who eats more chicken than any other protein, off the factory-farmed poultry grid is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

I also like that Bella is learning where meat comes from, and that she won't grow up distanced from the source of what winds up on her plate. If you're going to eat meat, it seems to me to be better to be responsible for it, to know what you're eating and how it was treated--and I think this philosophy also puts her in a better, more informed position for choosing to be a vegetarian or a vegan, should she feel led to do that. Heck, you might check back here in six months and find out that I myself am now a vegetarian with a giant flock of pet chickens. Who knows? It's doubtful, though--even though I have maintained a vegetarian and even a vegan lifestyle at times in the past, I was only able to do it with the consumption of a great deal of soy product, mainly meat substitutes, tofu, soy milk, and TVP. And, well, knowing what we now know about soy, that's just not smart, especially for someone with estrogen issues...and since Bella likely carries my predisposition toward estrogen-dominant disease, I'd like to not load the deck against her at the start.

Other things we can do to further distance ourselves from industrial farming includes only buying beef from our local, independent butcher, who slaughters one or two cows a week--cows which are brought in by local farmers. We already eat very little beef, and even less pork, but the dogs eat beef, so it's good to know that we have a source we can trust. We can also buy locally farmed catfish easily, and can catch trout from clean waters almost all year long. And as skeeved out as I initially was when Alex started seriously pursuing hunting, now that I've enjoyed several meals that his efforts have provided, I can appreciate the logic of the hunter/game relationship. I definitely feel better about eating wild game than I do factory-farmed beef, pork, or poultry, and that big tom turkey that Alex brought home last month was mighty tasty, and provided us with meat for several meals, plus gallons of rich, clear stock for the freezer (my Jewish friends will weep at the fact that I did not save the schmaltz--what little there was). We've barely made a dent in the freezer full of venison that came from the single deer he got this winter.

So, yeah...I'll probably be talking more about the chickens, and "slow food" in general, and posting pictures of ridiculously decorated henhouses and oodles of fuzzy baby chicks, so just get used to it. Like I said, I can barely shut up about THE CHICKENS. If you have thoughts or suggestions on slow food or slow living in general, I'd love to hear them.


  1. I always thought that schmaltz was goose fat - my dad would get it from a german delicatessian near his office. (I wouldn't touch it!)

    The chickens idea sounds neat. Our condo may allow chickens (the rules only don't allow dogs) but I don't think our neighbors would appreciate it!

  2. I can't quite get past Gary's feet hanging onto Delta's collar.

    Did you say something about chickens? I was distracted.

  3. I need to preface this with "you asked!"

    I have a book for you: "Five Acres and Independence"

    My husband, Mr. Rocket Scientist is completely obsessed with it AND the chickens. He built a chicken coop with siding, interchangable windows, and a little plaza... the man is nuts. Anyway, we're way into the chickens too. Our chicks arrive in another 6 weeks or so though - and then the battle begins with the local wildlife.

    But seriousy - that book? You will be in love with it. Even has a whole chapter about the chickens. We're right with you trying to figure this out. He's tackling the chickens this year, and the garden is my affair. I'm looking at raised beds but I'm not sure yet. The moose and the moles are a huge pain in the butt. And the merecats scare the crap out of me. Makes gardening a high adrenalin experience.

  4. I have no suggestions for you, but I was obsessed with the PBS show, Frontier House, partly because they had to learn how to cook the pioneer way. All the families were having a rough time of it, except this one woman who figured out how to make gourmet meals and souffles in their wood-fired stove. And her husband had a still and became fake rich from selling pioneer moonshine.

    Anyway... good luck with the chickens - can't wait to see photos!

  5. A moment of silence for Gary. That's freakin' awesome. He was like the Godfather of roosters.

    I would love to have some chickens, but our city has a stupid ordinance against "livestock" - even though we were not part of the city until some of the surrounding communities were forcibly amalgamated and we're still pretty darned rural. I may take a chance and get a few anyway. I'll be interested to hear how everything goes. And post some pictures of their habitat so I can get some ideas!

  6. You're so right about Riana's blog! I've had to bookmark it for later. I am also not a shopper and am married to a man who is -- and a hoarder. I always feel like I'm losing the simplification battle. But as for "Saving money on groceries and shampoo is not benefiting me if I'm turning around and spending those savings on books and magazines and restaurant sushi" ~ I think books and restaurant sushi are staples of life -- maybe even more than toilet paper! :) I have a favourite food-and-photo blog written by a slow-life Swede in Tuscany:
    A fellow art blogger and friend, Angela, has started a blog devoted to responsible food stewardship in an urban environemnt: (The call-to-artists post is not typical.)

  7. If the poodles eat your chickens you could always turn around and eat the poodles!

  8. "Tastes like chicken, 'cause there's chicken in 'em!"

  9. My neighbors have chickens, and they are most generous with eggs during the spring and summer, and we appreciate it so.

    I'm also a hoarder and trying to declutter is the biggest pain in the arse, but I'm trying to follow the good example you are setting!

    RIP, Gary!!

  10. I would recommend looking into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. It's great for busy people who would love to garden, but don't have time. And buying a share at the beginning of the growing season saves local (generally organic) farmers the worry of crop failure. We've had a share for the last 4 summers, and eat almost entirely veggies from it. You can look for a CSA in your area at

    Good luck - I, too, love the idea of slow food, but rarely is it the reality in our house. We have cut out just about all fast food, with the exception of Chinese takeout, though. Yay us!

    Can't wait for more stories of the Chickens. Bless poor Gary's poodle-hatin' soul!

  11. leslie--I think it's any poultry fat? I think that chicken schmaltz is a primary ingredient in matzoh ball soup. Geese are really fatty, so there'd be a lot of it from a goose. And you would not BELIEVE how many apartment and condo-dwellers keep chickens! If you search "city" and "chickens" on flickr, you'll see some that live on balconies, etc!

    avalon--I KNOW, right?

    savy--Thanks for the recommendation! I hope you'll be blogging (with pictures) your cool chicken-yard and houses! And that you can successfully varmint-proof them! Ours will be in the basement in a brooder for at least a month before we put them outside.

    jenny--we can't get our local PBS affiliate, and my biggest single regret is that I can't watch Pioneer House! I wonder if it's available on DVD...

    hannah--check into chickens specifically. I was surprised to find out how many cities don't count them as "livestock." Google "city chickens" for ideas. Some places allow hens but no roosters.

    andrea--ack, stop giving me wonderful new blogs to read! ;-) And yes, agreed about books and sushi, but I need to learn to use my LIBRARY, and to MAKE sushi, you know? I mean, I almost always have all the stuff here, anyway--surely I can learn to put it together!

    dave2--Ugh. These poodles are bound to taste bad. Though, their feet smell like popcorn, so you never know.

    erin--we DO have a local CSA, and it has a website, even. But there is no info about how to JOIN it, or how much it costs, or anything! They are starting a new farmer's market in Argenta in May, though, and I plan to be there on the opening day.

  12. This is a completely serious question - I am a city girl through and through: what exactly is involved in the transition from chicken running around the coop to chicken roasting in the oven?

  13. Melissa--this is what kept me from following through the last time I wanted to raise chickens for meat. But now I have a husband who can help, which is good, because if I am left in charge of the killing, I'll have a yard full of annoyed chickens with numerous flesh-wounds.

    Obviously, you have to kill them. The most common method seems to be to put a "cone" over them to keep them calm, and simply chop off their heads. Like I said, check back 6 months from how and see if I now own pet chickens.

    For butchering, the bird is drained of blood, feathers removed, head/feet removed, internal organs removed. Then rapidly-chilled in an ice bath, sealed and aged for a couple days in the refrigerator before cooking or freezing.

    Alternately to processing the birds whole, you can de-bone and filet them and store the meat in pieces. That's how Alex processed his wild turkey, because it was just so darn huge, it would have taken up most of the freezer.

    I'm going to be relying on Alex for the "dirty work," but I'm capable of plucking and dressing out. It's going to be an educational journey, no matter what.

  14. You are the best!! That is such a nice post and I love all your fabulous comments on flickr.

    I have serious chicken envy right now. I'm so excited for you to get a flock. That is my dream! (cant believe I would ever say that, my husband is cracking up at my about face turn around with life.)

    big hugs,

  15. I love riana's blog also.

    Friends of ours have chickens and insist that it is easy to raise them and uh, kill them. But really I like to ignore that whole part ;-)

  16. Check our this link on the trouble you can get into for raising a few chickens in the Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia.

    This is going to be a long drawn out battle my friends are in the midst of. Just to keep 13 chickens on a property of 2.5 acres

    There have been many newspaper articles, TV interviews, editorials, etc. All for a few chickens that are really pets - no kidding! They have been fined $500 by a sympathetic judge (the prosecutor wanted $1,000) - but it is under appeal

    I expect you are safe with your zoning, Belinda. Sure hope so!

    Alice and her poodles (who have not yet caught a live chicken, but would definetly want to)

  17. I hate anti-chicken ordinances.

    I am fortunate that my city allows up to twelve fowl on residential lots (provided you can meet certain property line restrictions)

    I am a huge Riana fan as well!!

    I have five hens and I'm looking forward to having another number of them added in a couple of years.

    This is a wonderful post and I'm so excited for you to be getting chickens and gardening more and all these cool and exciting things you're planning. I love hearing about other people's adventures in slower living.

    I think I would have liked Gary.

  18. Riana, I've been having chicken-envy for YEARS, and it's something that always got put on the back-burner before. I think that Alex gained so much confidence in his own ability to provide and process game, that my chicken-yearning went, in his mind, from a silly yen to, "Hey, we could really do this," and that made all the difference!

    Chris--Yeah, I know! What's been bugging me more and more, though, is that, to eat chicken from the store, I have to "ignore" what has happened to them before they got to my plate. And didn't you like that I made us nine times trashier than you? ;-)

    Alice--Oh, no! I hope your friends prevail. I've seen, through the research I've been doing, that when kept properly, chickens really can be quite unobtrusive. I hope we'll be good stewards of poultry-raising in our neighborhood. (And no, there ain't no rules about nothin' out here! Not even a leash-law, unfortunately.)

    Angelina--Thanks, I'm really excited! Less about the gardening, because that is really foreign soil (har, har) for me. I've been impressed with how many people are keeping chickens successfully in residential areas.

  19. You will LOVE this website...

    She is a fabulous woman with an equally fabulous blog. SO much information here. And she has chickens...

    I can't remember how I recently found your blog. However, my Mom has a standard black poodle (he pees everytime he looks at me... no idea why he does this, so he has to wear "the diaper" every time I come over). She loves her poodle....


  20. Andrea (the sister)March 18, 2008 at 9:09 PM

    When the chickens come, can I come over and sing the Basia song like I used to? Please??

  21. KH--you're right, I do like it! Thanks for sharing.

    Andrea--You can do that NOW.

  22. I've been getting more and more into the slow food and local living movements since I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver ( (They raised chickens and turkeys!)

    I live in a city, and have a very small yard, so raising my own chickens is out of the question, but I spend a lot of time at the Farmer's Market last spring through fall and sent in my check to join a local CSA this year, so I feel like I'm making progress toward a more local and slow lifestyle.

    You can read about my own local eating adventures at my blog. I'm sure I'll be posting more about my CSA experience as the season rolls around, too. Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to read more about your chickens and gardening!

  23. What kinds of veggies are you going to grow? SFG is fun, I've tried it, too.

    Totally jealous, I'd LOVE to have chickens, but in suburbia I'm pretty sure it'd be frowned upon.


  24. U R teh Awesum. Rlly. I just ordered some seeds and am headed to the hardward store next week for potting soil and seedling flats. I want my OWN tomatoes from my OWN backyard. Wait, backporch, I live in an apartment. So that would be container gardening... Looking forward to your adventures. Not sure if you read Angelina's Dustpan Alley, but she's a gardener and mover-toward-slower living who's also just a great writer.

  25. I love this blog and I am so happy that you are choosing to be mindful of the food your family consumes. We as Americans are a nation obsessed with consuming, yet we don't seem too mindfull of what we consume. Maybe we should all look at what we feed ourselves daily. The most popular tv shows are filled with violence, the most visited web-sites are full of gossip. We fill our homes with cheap goods made in horribly repressive regimes. I have been trying to be mindfull of all the choices I make as a consumer and it is hard, but if more people did this I think our nation as a whole would be less violent, healthier and happier and need a little less prozac and xanex to get through the day. If you haven't been there before try this website.

  26. smtwngrl--that book is on my wishlist, along with "The Omnivore's Dilemma!" I should actually get off my butt and reactivate my long-dormant library card and go CHECK THEM OUT. That would, after all, be less consumerism.

    amy--I don't know! HELP! I need folks like you and Gayla to walk me through it. I will probably kill a lot of plants while I stumble my way along. I know the vegetables I like to eat, but I don't know how well I could grow them. No one in my family likes fresh tomatoes (I think I just heard my Southerner Card being suspended), so until I learn to can them for use in sauces, I can forgo those.

    David--agreed, and yes, I believe that "consumption of junk" easily extends to our television and internet habits. Thanks for the link to New Dream.

  27. buff orps! me too! me too! when we lived in MS, i had a flock of barred rocks that i loved, but buff orps are more winter hardy. you're going to love your chickens' eggs, belinda -- the first time i bought eggs after we left the farm, i put a thumb thru the puny little shell just lifting one from the carton. my rocks' eggs were just gorgeous -- deep orange yolks, firm whites.
    chicks rule!

  28. So I'm at choir rehearsal tonight, at UALR, and this guy walks in, and he's carrying a live chicken. Upside-down, by its feet, like you do. He is quickly shooed out by the director, who is Canadian and so did not bargain for this, and half the baritones run out in the hall after him to see WTF. The women, we just dissolve in laughter. Eventually the accompanist, who is Bulgarian, produces a large cardboard box, empty, and disappears into the hallway. A few minutes later, the guy comes back in with the box, now full of chicken and decorated with duct tape. Because hey, he's the one who spotted it in the middle of University Avenue and chased it through the Walgreens parking lot and tackled it when it got caught in a bush, right? Finders keepers and stuff.

  29. well said. I'm in awe of your resourcefulness.

  30. Wow wow wow! Well done. I am counting the days (something like 2190 of them) until we move out of the city to someplace where I can keep chickens of my own. In the meantime I will very much enjoy reading about your adventures with your flock.