NEWS FLASH: Chickens are the pet of the decade. Boston suburban officials who a few years ago could not have imagined allowing homeowners to keep chickens in the backyard are finding the debate a hot topic at town meetings and in city halls. City dwellers who are generations away from even touching dirt, not to mention tending barnyard animals, are checking out whether Rhode Island Reds or those cute little hens that lay blue eggs would fit better into their lifestyles. And the public murmuring about the beauty of an egg laid yards away from the frying pan has become a roar.
Martha Stewart started it, of course, with her designer hens. And it’s always hens that are coveted — the noisy roosters seem to be beloved only by those hens. Author Susan Orleans pushed it along with her tale of being so besmitten by her flock that she found herself in the veterinarian’s office holding an ailing feathered friend on her lap. Now it’s so fashionable that not having a flock is becoming a social embarrassment.
It’s time for full disclosure. I grew up around chickens. My grandmother who lived next door kept a flock, and most of her neighbors did, too. Everyone had relatives a few miles out of our tiny village who brought in eggs. I gathered eggs when I visited my cousin Susan at her farm. Chickens regularly had their necks wrung for Sunday dinner, an event that modern hen owners would find ghastly. But I wasn’t fond of poultry. Maybe it was my grandmother’s rooster that chased me across the yards when I was barely a toddler. He seemed enormous, and had talons and a beak that kept even the largest house cats at bay. I remember feeling sure that some day that rooster would catch me.
But I’m thinking that I might have to reconsider my hen-phobia, or give up my foodie credentials. Can a childhood fear of feathers and beaks be overcome? Can I learn to love the clucks as well as the eggs? Can I, figuratively, cross the road to meet the chickens?