One of our first – and favorite – country life endeavors was the acquisition of a flock of chickens. At the time, the backyard chicken movement was in its infancy, and most of the books we found were republished versions of guides from the 1980s, so most of our education came from trial and error and picking the brains of our more experienced neighbors.
Now, there are a lot of books out there that will tell you what you need if you want to keep chickens. You’ll need something to keep the varmints out. You’ll need a watering system. You’ll need housing and a place to keep their food from getting moldy. But the one thing they don’t tell you is that every backyard chicken owner needs a good mudroom and a healthy tolerance for messes.
Our chickens – my husband liked to call them ‘The Girls’ in his best South-Chicago accent – were truly free range. To be sure, we locked them up at night, but in the daytime, they had the run of our garden and yard, and our flock became very friendly with us. They followed me into the garden, scratching and digging and weeding. They’d follow the kids around the yard, risking death by flying baseball to enjoy their company. And, if we left the front door open, they’d follow us into the house.
The first time it happened, one of The Girls had followed me in when I went to get a garden tool. One of them inside momentarily was adorable. She hopped around our cluttered entry way, exploring until I decided that we were in danger of invoking Murphy’s Law and, playing it safe, tossed her out.
Little did I know that she had discovered the bin of cracked corn we had leftover from winter feeding.The next day, I had two companions close behind me as I walked to the door. This was threatening to become a trend, so I put my foot between us and warned the family that the girls were suddenly interested in the house.
This kept on for a while, and The Girls being more persistent than we were vigilant eventually began finding their way regularly into the mudroom. The only thing that kept our house from turning into a giant chicken coop was our mudroom – our Maginot line against feathers and chicken poop. It got even crazier when winter weather rolled in making them completely dependent on the corn bin (in the summer they survived on bugs for the most part).
Now, I did draw the line at the living room door – the only chickens in the main house are in picture frames (along with the rest of our family), But, when there was 6-8 inches of fresh snow on the ground and another 4-6 inches on the way (cracked corn sinks), the mudroom/poutry bar was a really convenient way to feed the ladies. And, somehow, the new mom who had been revolted by the sight of pigeons feeding from and off of tourists in the Plaza of San Marco in Venice had morphed (in a mere five years) into a chicken lady, cooing as she fed The Girls and snapping pictures when it was her husband’s turn. No one who knows me would ever have mistaken me for a neat freak, but convenience and necessity were teaching me not to let my feathers get ruffled (sorry – I had to do it).
A couple of summers ago a fox a way into the coop and decimated our flock. Fixing the coop and restocking is fairly high up on the to-do list, but, in the interim, the mudroom has been cleared and re-cluttered several times, erasing any evidence that it was once a poultry bar. I’m still sure that a mudroom is a must-have when you have chickens, but now, even at its most cluttered state, it feels a more than a little empty without our companions, making me wonder if the mudroom needs chickens to be complete.