It began innocently enough. Years ago, spring 2009, while rebuilding, my wife elected to get a batch of chicks to raise. Pairing her love of gardening with the future production of yard eggs, these were the things she loved and that her parents had shown her growing up. And now being a mother herself she wanted the same for her own growing family. Except we didn’t live in once-sleepy River Ridge but still drying out New Orleans, and well, chickens weren’t the norm yet.
With our first batch we kept them outdoors in a side yard well wired in a framed pen, at the time a constant distraction for our cats we’d named after the storms: Katrina and Rita. The latter I called lovingly The Huntress for her knack of decapitating neighborhood rats and presenting her kills on the doorstep some mornings. Gruesome and amazing. This was the same cat that I’d permitted to sleep in the crib of my children. Maybe getting a batch of chicks wasn’t such a good idea after all? Maybe her nocturnal visits needed to be better monitored? Ultimately over the course of years she never once nabbed a baby chick over successive springs nor did she do anything other than nightly watch over our babies. But many more rats did meet their untimely demise under her watch. Oh how I miss Rita.With that first brood though, as they grew and as quickly as they did, we needed more space and sooner than expected. So we sacrificed a chifferobe rescued from Katrina water and tricked it out into a hen house we adorned in gold paint: The Chick Inn. Some NOLA ex-pat friends in from Seattle at the time helped with the avian renovation. We even placed casters at the base with the notion of making it mobile. With the outdoor exposure plus the wear from the hens The Chick Inn collapsed a few years later. A good run, if not a great learning experience of what not to do in hen keeping. Future renditions of coops were fabbed faster, lighter, and freer of even more recycled materials. One of the present ones actually has an old chandelier for décor. Yes, we now have more than one. I did open with ‘It began innocently enough,’ remember?
Today we keep two chicken sites sans roosters under constant care in the city. To keep them together would frankly be too much for one urban area, outside of code, and so on. Too once you are known for keeping hens, you sometimes become a home for the wayward and feathered, from friends and neighbors who give the urban-chicken movement a go but either move away or just give it up. Worse are breakups or divorces when the hens don’t leave town but the spouse does, and next thing you know you get a request to take in what’s left behind.
This spring marks the first in the years of hen keeping my wife has elected not to get a new batch of chicks. Effectively there are no more rooms to rent in The Chick Inn, and until there is the “no vacancy” sign will be aglow. Too we recently invested in a little land a little north of the city, a hurrication spot, and while I don’t expect the egg production to move out of Orleans Parish anytime soon, one never knows.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.