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Suburban Dad: A Plague of Chickens is His Name

Forgive me a moment if I blame it all on you. Of course, it is partly the fault of my wife, a mental health professional and baker who always wanted to turn farmer. About a month ago, I wrote in this space about how I was thinking of transforming my small suburban plot into an approximation of a farm by adding chickens. Technically, allowing for the two dogs, two cats and three kids already contorted onto the .20 acres, it'd probably amount to more of a zoo—but I digress.

The point is: I left if up to you.

In the thoroughly modern manner of these things, I trolled for feedback. I begged wise counsel: should I get chickens or skip it? Roughly a dozen answers came back in the comment section below, through Twitter: (@MarekFuchs) and email via my website . Moreover, the comments weren't the usual Internet braying. No one took the veil of anonymity to call me a chickin'-lickin' idiot or any other online-drive-by-endearments. In fact, the answers were earnest and unanimously positive: go for it.

And so it's all your fault. Plus, my wife's.

I've currently begun planning for the chicken's arrival. I know chickens are gaining popularity, standing as emblems of modern environmentalism and local food production, not to mention Depression-era chic. Still, learning about them is easier said than done. I purchased a copy of "Chickens for Dummies." When they bill it as a basic look at raising chickens, they're not kidding. One of the first bits on advice that jumped out at me was this: "Never butcher a chicken in view of the neighbors." Point taken. They also give a primer on "caponizing" a rooster, but luckily our neighbors—who probably wouldn't be enamored of ritual slaughter in the front yard as they were walking their kids to the bus stop—also wouldn't take to kindly to rooster crows at 5 a.m. So we're skipping roosters, issue of caponizing mercifully averted.

The book describes chickens as "moving lawn ornaments," a curious image. But what got my (and I apologize for this groaner ahead of time) goat even more was this: the most common fatal illness for chickens is: Marek's Disease. Explain to me how the birds I desire die in vast numbers of my given name. Was I named after a fatal poultry plague? Remind me not to ask mom. Or was the plague, in some unimaginable twist, named after me? Whatever the strange case, I moved on quickly to the chapter on chicken social structure, which sounds uncannily like the social structure in a good number of Westchester and Connecticut communities. Chickens fritter away their time squabbling over nesting boxes and they eat according to an established order. If you are powerful, the trough is yours. If not—well, enjoy life's scraps, buddy.

Also, anyone with a houseful of kids will appreciate this gem: "Chickens are rarely quiet for long unless the are sleeping." The parallel with adolescents was uncanny: "Chickens are notorious for eating almost anything. Their taste buds are not well developed, and tastes that we consider bad don't faze them." Beyond that, chickens don't even bathe, at least as we know it. They take dust baths, kicking up dirt and dust at every opportunity.

So what do we have here? Dirty, socially persnickety souls who devour everything in their paths? And that's if they don't die of the disease that bears my name.

It doesn't sound quite as quaint as I first assumed. Of course, when it comes to getting animals (and having children) I've always given in, taking a stand, but then relenting, in the spirit of the great Groucho Marx quote: "Those are my principles, if you don't like them I have others."

And so I think it's still going to be full steam-ahead on the mini-farm, signing onto this strange fad, apparently the latest word in "moving lawn ornament." But, I am giving you one more chance to talk me out of it. And, please, this time don't be so polite.


Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," called "riveting" by Kirkus Reviews.  He wrote The New York Times'  "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville.  When not writing or teaching, he serves as a volunteer firefighter.  You can contact Marek through his website: or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.

So, chickens or no? This is your last chance to talk Marek out of it. Tell him what you think in comments below or on Facebook .

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