One day a while back I was doing my usual chores, which mostly consists of loading the boiler and then making the rounds ensuring all the animals are taken care of. This particular time included going to the creek to get a couple buckets of water and then wading through snow nearly two feet deep to deliver the goods. As I did, the thought occurred to me that everywhere around me many people were indoors where it was warm and dry, yet here I was sloshing half frozen water down my barn boots. “This is not normal,” I thought to myself. Maybe those folks were on to something.

Once in a while I question why I do things. Certainly it would be easier to just buy our eggs from someone else who raises their own chickens.

It wouldn’t be as cheap but more and more I am tempted to just go back to burning fuel oil for heating and no longer having to deal with moving firewood from one place to another, stacking it and then burning it. It seems to get heavier every year. 

So as I stood there throwing scratch grain to a dozen eager laying hens, I thought about this some more. We by no means are a large farming operation. Still we could be saving ourselves a lot of money and effort if we didn’t do this. The question continued to nag at me: “Why ?”

The best answer is simply, because I don’t really know any other way. Also, I think it’s something inherent in country living. You live in the country, you have animals. You grow a garden. You better have more than one heat source. 

And so on.  

I am amazed when people express surprise that we do these things, like it is a novelty. Especially when they themselves live in the country. It cracks me up that to some people who live around here, I have become the “guy with  the chickens”. Fifty or sixty years ago that wouldn’t even garner a second look, but sometimes I watch as people pass by and slow down a bit to stare at the birds as if some kind of novelty. 

Man, if I ever follow through with my idea of getting emus there will be daily car accidents out there.

A more in depth reason I think is a connection to family. Namely my grandfather who, as I grew up seemed to have the same need to surround himself with animals. If there was an animal to have, he did. It was not unusual to have baby raccoons around in addition to the geese, guinea hens, horses, sheep, pigs, horses, and so on. Honestly I can’t think of an animal he didn’t raise at one point or another except maybe cattle. There was a monkey at one point but that was before my time. Oh, and I guess I had a “pet” squirrel when I was really little.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was very young, so I suppose it’s only natural I took after Grandpa in this Dr. Doolittle like habit.

I’ve cut back our menagerie over the last couple years because it’s not only time consuming but increasingly more expensive. A dozen or so chickens, a few ducks, a few game birds, and our newest addition, three young goats. Yeah, that’s “cutting back” around here. The temptation to add a few more animals now and then is strong. If I gave in, this place would be a regular zoo. Emus, reindeer and all.

Getting back to that day years ago, as I threw the last handful of grain to the hens, I turned and the empty brooder there on the floor reminded me it was time to order more chicks. I chuckled to myself, recognizing the absurdity of one moment questioning my sanity and the next telling myself it was time to add more mouths to feed. And I’m sure somewhere, my grandfather was looking down, laughing to himself as well.