READY FOR ACTION Six months after arriving, the chickens are set to lay.
Like many people in Portland, my husband and I romanticized the idea of raising baby chicks after the city in February changed its "Ordinance for Keeping Domestic Fowl," which once outlawed domestic eggers. Now, for a $25 permit, we can have a maximum of six chicks, to be housed in a coop sitting 25 feet from our home and five feet from adjacent property lines. Roosters and breeding are prohibited, but the presence of a male is not necessary for the production of eggs. After filling out the proper forms, which classify chickens as "pets for non-commercial use" we sent in our application and check and then ordered a six-pack of peeps at $1.50 each.
In April, we joined other eager would-be eggers to pick up our chickens from the Paris Farmers Union. A chorus of fowl cried out from cardboard boxes, 350 turkeys and some 2000 variations of hens, according to shopkeeper Clint Farnham.
As cars lined the parking lot on Washington Avenue, we met other proud chicken parents arriving to collect their baby birds and the 50-pound bags of mash they would demolish in a week's time, quickly doubling in size and body weight before our eager eyes.
Once home, we set our chicks under the red hue of the warming light, and I began building my own coop, no more than a glorified doghouse, but my first construction project all the same. The gestation period for hens would be six months. By October, I would be heading out each morning for fresh eggs; each of our girls would drop one egg per day for the first three years of their lives. I imagined my breakfast waiting in the hay-lined cedar roosting boxes. The notion was bucolic and beautiful; I watched the calendar, marked the days.
Spring and summer, I read up on how to raise domestic chickens; I got the right combination of oatmeal, mash, and, yes, cat food, to fatten up my birds, feeling oh so proud when we moved our girls up to pellets three months later. They were growing, and, Coco Chanel, a black Ancona, always a diva, was our first chick to delight in the larger morsels, her feathers grown thick and satiny, her talons wide and coarse; she was a peep no more.
October 7 marks the date of "The Big Egg Drop," the close of the gestation period, the end of the six-month term that ushers our girls into womanhood. Just in time for Halloween, those 2000 hens sold in April will drop their first eggs. And some of those hens, the ones called White Ameraucanas, more commonly known as Easter Eggers, will lay multicolored baskets -- eggs in blue, yellow, brown, and white.
Already collecting recipes for custards and frittatas, I am having trouble curbing my enthusiasm. With the support of other chicken fanatics awaiting their own first eggs, we are counting the days, passing the time blogging on MyPetChicken.com site and tuning in to backyard Webcasts from an urban coop near Boston (on hencam.com). But nothing can prepare us, really, for the moment, that collective squawk, that will announce "The Big Egg Drop." I imagine it now, a race to the coop in my pink slippers to find Eudora, Clara, Katherine, Flannery, Bird, and Coco Chanel atop their first eggs, a moment of pride, no doubt, that will culminate in a cooking frenzy of quiches, omelets, and chocolate soufflés.