- Chooks in the City by Alyson Hill
- Ginninderra Press, Charnwood, ACT, Australia, 2007
- 56 pages; 16 colour photos
Chooks in the City is a work of narrative non-fiction. Or, to use a more low-falutin’ term, it’s a neighbourly chat over the fence about Alyson’s chickens, her Dad’s chickens, and her friends’ chickens, all raised in backyards throughout suburban Canberra.
Her first chapter opens with a near-scuffle with the new next-door neighbour. Her closing chapter lets us imagine her in a “crappy” mood, coffee cup in hand, “staring gormlessly at the six chickens” until their antics cheer her up again. In the seven chapters in between, Alyson writes about how she and her friends choose their chooks, keep the chooks safe, feed them, handle them, and check for illness — all in anecdotal form.
My only memory of backyard chickens is that of my sixth-grade best friend Stacey. Her family lived on a half-acre lot in a rural crossroads. Their chicken coop was like a small raised shed: you went up two steps and through a full-sized door to feed the chickens and collect their eggs. I was surprised, then, to learn in Chooks that chickens can be kept in thigh-high runs that can be scooted around the yard like wheelbarrows.
I didn’t even know what “broody” means when I started reading this book. Alyson doesn’t explicitly define the term, either, in her chapter “Eggs and Broodiness”. She doesn’t need to. As she talks about her experiences, the meaning becomes clear (page 31):
Chooks are induced to broodiness by things like the sight of eggs, uncollected, lying huddled in the nest box; or a sudden rise in temperature can make a hen feel all warm and motherly.
In the same way, Alyson gives a lot of information effortlessly, informally, and entertainingly. Should you choose your chickens by colour, or are there other criteria to consider — and if so, what? How do you introduce a new hen to an existing flock? What’s an easy test to see if an egg is stale? What’s good, and what isn’t, about feeding sunflower seeds to a hen? In what way is straw a poor nesting material? The answers to these questions and more are in this book.
Chooks also includes three appendices: a list of poultry-buying places in the Canberra area; a dozen general ideas on how to use those extra eggs; and four recipes. I’ve just tried one of them, the Impossible Pie, using some leftover chicken and veggies. I’ve gotta admit, chopped fine, mixed with eggs and cheese and milk, and and baked so that it forms a nice soft crust, my “tastes-like-vegan chicken soup” tastes a heckuva lot better.
Quote from Chooks in the City, page 43:
I have come across many a chicken sprawled, dirty and dead-looking in the sun, and jumped out of my skin when it has flipped its head over and preened its back while spasmodically kicking more dirt around. This is chicken happiness.