We welcomed four little fluff balls into our home on June 15, 2020. Nestled in Nevada County, California, we are currently staying at our home close to town on a little less than an acre.
Our county ordinance only allows us four hens. Roosters are not allowed.
That’s a true gamble when you’re randomly buying birds at the local farm-supply store. In the past, a friend was surprised by four roosters out of five chicks and had obsessively warned us of her not-so-lucky experience.
But we missed out on a connection of guaranteed sexed chicks. So our only available option was our local store, the one we were nervous about due to our friend’s bad luck.
Here Chicky, Chicky
Our coop was near completion. So the following morning my son and I left early and failed at our first stop. Our local farm-supply was already sold out.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and all-things lockdown, it appeared the entire county had decided to raise chickens.
But we had one more option. There was another farm-supply store in the town over—8 miles away. We rushed over, parked, unbuckled and masked up as fast as we could. Both of us jumped out of the truck and ran into the store with fingers crossed.
Luckily, they still had some chicks left! We were now going to be a family of nine (including the dog and cat, of course!).
Selecting baby chickens within a compound of 40 others is a very random process! When the store clerk put her hand in the pen, they scattered like cockroaches in the surprise of a kitchen light being turned on.
We could only say, “Give us a yellow one, an orange one and then two of those back ones, please.”
I honestly hadn’t felt that excited in a long time. We were only into lockdown for three months at this point.
I was still not going into work. My son was no longer going in-person for his already part-time school sessions. And our family was no longer doing our trail volunteer work.
Yes, we were healthy and could still afford our home and food, so I continue to be mindful of what I whine about. However, things were pushing to the point of depression with not seeing family, not hugging family and friends, and not being with my tribe at work.
We were well aware the entire world was experiencing this pandemic, just in different ways. I explained to my son that even though we may all be on the same sea/ocean—meaning the pandemic—we are all in different flotation devices. Some people have yachts, some have tiny lifeboats and others may only have a pool noodle.
For now, our lifeboat was taking on four tiny fluff balls. Our minds had a happy distraction from pandemic woes, and, with these new chickens, our yard took on laughter again.
Half of those baby chickens were named before we even left the parking lot. We welcomed:
- Popcorn the Leghorn, because “she” was bouncing like popcorn in the box
- Ron Weasley, a Rhode Island Red, because “she” was scared when my son reached into the box
- Echo and Zulmira, the two Wyandottes (we named them later, at home)
If there are rules to tending to chicks, we broke them all! Our summer was hot, and our county was in a red-flag warning many days throughout the summer.
(In California, a red-flag warning is issued for weather events which may result in extreme fire behavior that will occur within 24 hours.)
We brought our birds into the house, and they nestled in our laps while we read bedtime stories. We laughed as they found comfort in the crook of our necks or at the belly of our old dog.
After story time, we would gently put them in their bin. When nights were too hot, we pitched our tent in our yard and those birds slept with us, in their bin, a tight fit in a little tent.
We were obsessed with our new family members and couldn’t imagine being any farther than an arm’s reach away. We camped out the remainder of June, all of July and into August until the night of the lightning storm that started the Jones Fire. That lightening strike woke the birds and me.
With the fear of our red-flag warning, I was up the remainder of the night—worried and listening to the police scanner for updates.
Flying the Coop
The minute the sun came up, we had our local radio station tuned in, waiting for evacuation warnings. By 4 p.m., seconds after the sheriff drove by requesting us to go, our emergency go-bags were in our vehicles, as well as our son, the dog, the cat and, of course, the chickens, all tightly sitting in my car.
With my partner in his truck, we headed to our evacuation meet-up spot. Whether or not the winds were going to drive that fire to our neighborhood was out of our hands.
We waited patiently. The cat meowed in protest. The old dog was confused but along for the ride. And the not-so-tiny birds jumpe and, yes, pooped everywhere (except their bin).
Hours later, we were allowed to return to our home. It was safe and as we had left it. But others were not so lucky. That fire burned more than 700 acres for 12 days, destroying 21 structures and our beloved ADA hiking trail, The Independence Trail.
I Heart Chickens
Chickens or no, this pandemic has slowed many of us down. It has taken days and hours of our time, filling our minds with great ideas and also many fears.
One thing is for sure, though. We love these birds, and they love us. Or maybe we just look like chicken treats and that is why they come running when we walk out back!
Our chickens have been one of the positive pieces to our pandemic stay-at-home orders. As my son says, “They are the best part of COVID-19.”
These birds kept us company during summer and even through a dark winter. They continue to bring laughter into our yard. They brighten our at-home school days, inspiring my son to write stories, draw chickens and build chickens with his building bricks.
We’re all-things chickens and can’t imagine our home without our sweet birds — which, by the way, all turned out to be girls! As of January 16, three out of four were laying daily!
I am so grateful we added these chickens in our family during the pandemic. I enjoy watching out my kitchen window as my son digs for worms and the hens stand by waiting. It brings me great joy to watch them run and follow him around the yard while they search together for other bugs.
I even enjoy chasing them back outside after they have come in through the dog door and into the laundry room begging for a treat!
This article, written by Amee Medeiros, originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Chickens magazine. Medeiros is the executive director of the Neighborhood Center of the Arts, a nonprofit art program for adults with special abilities. She’s also a broadcaster for her community radio station, KVMR. She lives in Grass Valley, California, with her human and animal family.