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Posted on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : noon

Living in Ann Arbor: Why I have backyard chickens

By Corinna Borden

Borden - chicken on sumac

I hold one of the 2-week-old chicks on top of our backyard sumac tree.

Corinna Borden | Contributor

I was recently at a schmancy schmooze party filled with very intelligent and bejeweled individuals. I mentioned at one point, probably tired from small talk about the weather, that we have backyard chickens at our home in Ann Arbor.

“Chickens!” This very well dressed woman shrieks. “WHY do you have chickens!?”

I am not used to such a response, most of my friends find my obsession endearing (at least they pretend), so I rallied to genuinely respond. “I have chickens because I eat eggs.” Nonplussed, the woman quickly escaped.

I did not talk about the fact that when the chickens were small. I could hold their warm bodies in my hand and their skin was so thin, I could see blood and bones. I did not talk about the chirps of small chicks melting my heart and their soft, soft down, velvet to touch. I did not talk about holding one against my heart and feeling it thrum, like a cat’s purr. Or how soft they are, or how beautiful their feathers are, or how I prefer watching them to watching television.

I did not mention they sleep in a heap on the feed shelf in their coop, abjuring our painstakingly constructed roosts. I did not talk about watching them strut around the garden fluffing their wings. Or fighting over a worm, or digging holes for dust baths, or fleeing from the dog, or pecking our cat.

I did not mention food security or taking responsibility for where our food comes from. I did not mention poultry farms - chickens crammed their entire lives in a cage under artificial lights and the litter from those farms going to feed cattle. I did not mention any of that to the well-dressed woman - I just mentioned eggs.

A fresh egg from a happy chicken is BRIGHT orange, round, tight, and delicious. To throw in a bit of Plato - it is the egg, not the shadow of the egg.

Our girls were born at the end of July - and they have not yet started laying. We have been eating Dragonwood Farm eggs as we wait for them to mature. Waiting, watching, and learning about our birds. Drop me a line. Check out my Web site! Post a comment and start the conversation rolling!



Sat, Sep 11, 2010 : 2:36 p.m.

It's all fine and dandy, unless one cranky neighbor won't sign your form. We need to do away with the "permission slip" part of the ordinance.

David Briegel

Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 9:55 p.m.

I look forward to your future posts and I am quite envious! My family used to get eggs from our friends chickens on a farm outside the city. What a difference!

A Pretty Ann Arbor

Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 9:42 a.m.

The lady that was so shocked by your chickens is probably one of those that doesn't realize where her food comes from at all. Never made the connection of eggs and chickens ending up on her table!

Jennifer Shikes Haines

Tue, Nov 17, 2009 : 6:41 a.m.

Yet another reason I'm hoping to move into downtown Ann Arbor proper in a couple of years.


Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 9:20 p.m.

What a fantastic story! I have relatives that raise chickens for eggs and the difference in taste is stunning. My eyes have recently been opened to the atrocities of commercially raised animals and factory farms, and I think that the world needs more people like Corinna who will take responsibility for their food!

Corinna Borden

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 8:58 p.m.

As for the litter/groundwater issue. That is a good point. We are utilizing the "deep litter" method, which means there is about 6 inches of cedar shavings on the bottom of the coop, and we turn it every 3 days or so. After a year we will throw it all on the compost pile and start again. We will let the litter on the compost pile sit a bit longer (to let the nitrogen work out) and then throw it onto the vegetable garden.

Otto Mobeal

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 8:07 p.m.

Woman in Ypsi: You wouldn't "slaughter" the chickens, instead the chickens would be "alternatively used". What do people think happen to old chickens? Soup.


Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 7:03 p.m.

tidge, Yep, Nitrogen. It's fertilizer. Guano, mostly dried sea-bird poop, used to be imported for use on American farms, until it was replaced by artificial fertilizers. It's a problem when dumped in massive quantities and it ends up fertilizing streams and rivers half way to the sea. But I'd be very surprised if chicken-keepers' gardens don't happily soak up everything a few urban chickens can produce.


Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 6:40 p.m.

One item that I rarely see mentioned in the "chikenz" discussions is the waste. IIRC The by-products of the chicken's digestive system is surprisingly highly enriched in certain chemical elements (Nitrogen?) that can lead to ground-water contamination. It's always bothered me that there seems to never be any consideration of the waste, while folks worry about the noise!


Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 5:32 p.m.

Great essay and sweet tribute! There are chickens somewhere in our neighborhood and I enjoy hearing them cluck and crow in our back yard. I like the fact that Ann Arbor welcomes this practice.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 5:18 p.m.

Thanks for the info Edward V. I guess I wont be keeping chickens then. :) I was just kidding anyways although I do like to eat chicken and worry about how they are raised. I suspect that home raised free range chickens probably taste much better and are healthier for one than those raised in factory farms. And I suppose that even with the ordinances being what they are, someone could still raise chickens for meat and slaughter them outside of the city limits. "Hey chicken, let's go for a drive *insert evil laugh here*."

Jessica Webster

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 5:04 p.m.

Corinna - love this! We definitely have to come by and pay tribute to the girls! (We're one of the adjacent land owners who had to sign off in order for Corinna to get her permit)

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 4:39 p.m.

I dont like eggs but I like the idea of killing chickens with my bare hands and turning them into stir fry. I'll bet back yard chickens are delicious (and healthier than the farm raised ones).

Hans Masing

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 4:08 p.m.

As a proud keeper of chickens as well, I'll say that they are some of the best pets my family has had. Plus, the eggs *are* divine. We get 3-4 a day from our brood of four happy hens, and they are delicious!


Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 3:28 p.m.

My landlady wont allow chickens in our backyard either. Bummer