Urban Chickens Coming To Roost

While reading various news websites over the weekend, I noticed articles on raising ornamental chickensneighborhoods disputes over chicken coops, and raising chickens in Silicon Valley.  There’s been a growing trend in recent years for people to raise hens (but not the noisome roosters) in urban environments.  Fresh eggs from the hen are larger and more tastier than commercial eggs, and chickens make fine pets for younger children.  I’m reminded of my earlier run ins with urban chickens.

When I was growing up in the west side of San Jose in the early 1970’s, a Mexican family moved into our all white neighborhood.  My mother told me these were “bad people,” although not as bad as the Hell’s Angels down the street who routinely urinated on the front yard, or worst than the sheriff deputies who take suspects behind the local 7-Eleven to crack their skulls.  (Given the choice between one or the other back then, you wanted the Hell’s Angels on your side.)  She never did explain to me why they were bad people, or what made them different from the Cuban family around the corner who occasionally babysat me.  Perhaps it was because her sister married a Mexican-American rather than a white guy that made her prejudiced.

One day the little boy who lived with that family invited my buddies and I into the backyard, which had a long fence that bordered a side street.  We been peering through the various knotholes to see what was in the backyard since are parents told us that “bad things” had happen there.  We saw rows of corn taking up most of the backyard, a chicken coop in one corner, which we knew about since a chicken hopped the fence to cross the street, and a swimming pool where the algae was so thick that you could walk  across.

But what horrified us white boys was a bloodied axe in a chopping block and tiny drops of blood all over the concrete of where a headless chicken ran around.  Somehow we all got the same idea that we were lured into this macabre backyard to have our own heads cut off.  We went screaming out of the backyard.  Our families kept us away from the “bad people” in the neighborhood.  I don’t think the little boy had any friends in the neighborhood after that incident, which got around since my mother was the Avon lady and gossip was her other trade.

If the school district haven’t declared me mentally retarded when I wasn’t as a child, I might’ve joined the 4-H farm club in secondary school or gone to Galvin College in Gilroy to pursue animal husbandry.  My Dad’s family were farmers in Idaho, and my Mom’s family were tomato ranchers in Southern California.  I would’ve naturally gravitated towards being a young farmer if circumstances have allowed me to do so.

When I was living in downtown San Jose during my college years, encountering a stray chicken on the streets wasn’t an uncommon event.  I later learned that many immigrants raised chickens and grow their own food in their backyards to stay in touch with their own culture.  Of course, San Jose is no longer a rural town but a major city.  Only a few years ago did the last feed store finally shut their doors, sending many customers to Gilroy or further south.

I would love to raise a hen or two on my own balcony.  The apartment complex management would throw a fit if I did.  Bad enough they get on my case about my 10- and 25-gallon fish tanks even though I never had a problem with them in the four years that I lived here.  If I become a best-selling author, maybe someday I can buy a house with an acre or two of land to raise some chickens, have an ornamental goldfish pond, and grow some produce for the local farmer’s market.