So I have a bit of a reputation at the office. I’m the guy with the chickens. In fact, I run a whole informal and probably utterly HR-policy-violating side hustle of bringing some of our excess eggs into the office and selling them. Given that my manager and my manager’s manager are among my customers, I’d probably better work pretty hard to make sure the girls keep laying well into the winter.
Now this means that sometimes I get a few interesting questions from folks who are less familiar with the sundry practical aspects of backyard food production. They are earnest, honest questions. In many cases they are questions that show just how far our society has drifted from any connection the most fundamental of processes which keep us alive.
1) Don’t you need a rooster to get eggs?
If you keep chickens, you’ve gotten this one, right? It always ends up in an awkward place because I’m unsure just how much reproductive biology I want to explain in the presence of Mr. Senior Corporate Vice President.
My go-to shortcut is “remember that ovulate means to lay an egg.” My wife, more direct, has been known to say, “does a woman need a man to have her period?”At this point any women in the room go slightly wide eyed and have that aha moment. Since I work with mostly nerdy male database types, I usually need to elaborate well past the point of awkwardness.
2) Wait, you can make pickles?
This one made a big impression on me. I’d brought in a jar of pickles to a potluck and ended up fielding some actively flabbergasted questions. Look, people, pickles aren’t plutonium. They aren’t 8-core Intel Itanium CPUs. Your great grandmother was making pickles before we even understood the microbiology at work.
You can make anything that belongs in your kitchen, and the only reason to think you can’t do so is that you’ve lost track of what should be in your kitchen.
3) So you have ducks – do you also have geese?
Got this one just a week ago. Geese? Really? I’d rather keep cybernetically enhanced Velociraptors as pets. Geese are terrifying! I’m not saying they don’t have their place and can’t be great additions to a farm, but if there was a poultry equivalent of bully breeds, geese would be doberman pinschers.
They scare me. There. I said it.
4) Are you going to get goats? Let me show you this video of a goat I found on YouTube…
People who aren’t ready for the livestock commitment of a beta fish are always the most eager to suggest that I add goats, or sheep, or mini-cattle to my 1/3rd acre.
Look, I understand that goats make for some great YouTube videos. Baby goats + spring steel = sure fire Oscar! But honestly, I really don’t want to deal with an animal that will eat my car or climb up my downspouts. And sure, goat cheese is great, but dealing with lactation isn’t. (So my wife tells me – and she breastfed both our kids for years.) So if you want me to get an animal just so I can post funny videos to the department SharePoint site, man, you’ve got another think coming.
5) What happens to your chickens when they stop laying?
Let me be frank: every person who has asked me this question was born outside of the United States. I answer frankly but tactfully that, when our chickens reach that certain henopausal age, we have a special retirement plan for them. Known as soup.
In every case, this answer has lead to me feeling like I’ve passed some kind of test. Like, “Oh so you’re not one of those crazy chicken-diaper people.” When my non-US-born co-workers give me that slight nod – the nod that says, “I’ve slaughtered a chicken or two in my life” – I’m reminded that most of rest of the world doesn’t have the luxury of setting aside aged farm animals as pets.
6) Can you bring your ducks in to work?
Only if you clean all the poop off of the servers. I know some offices in the greater Seattle area are dog-friendly, but there is a reason you aren’t seeing a lot of press about duck-friendly offices. Ducks poop a lot.
And can you imaging duck and dog friendly offices? Ugh. That’d be a bloodbath waiting to happen.
7) Isn’t it a lot of work?
Sure, of course it is. I get home after a full day’s work and still have my productive garden and productive home work to do. But the big thing is that it is productive. The reality of my corporate existence is that it often is anything but productive. Stack sessions. Town Halls. Post Mortems. Requirements Documents. Escalation Pathways. So much of what I do in Corporate America will never lead to anything tangible.
The homestead is the opposite. The visceral reality of a still-warm egg in the nesting box, a harvesting basket full of greens, a meal of which every component originated within your property: every act I take for the homestead results in something real, something I can hold in my hand.1
I had to laugh at “you can make pickles?”
I pickle and can and preserve and make my own bread and yogurt regularly. I’ve been stunned by the people who seem to think that by doing so I’m working weird sci-fi type magic in my kitchen. One person told me that I couldn’t possibly be making REAL peanut butter because you needed really big machines to do that. I asked them if they’d ever been to a Whole Foods and their response was yeah, but that’s just ground up peanuts. It’s not real peanut butter.
We are way too separated from our food and it’s kind of sad.
Homebrew Husband says
The irony is that when they were saying “real” they should have been saying “unreal,” right?
Richard Wyman says
Hello Homebrew, I enjoyed your post. I just wanted to say that goat lactation is not so bad to deal with. IF you have the time for it that is. Milking time is my favorite part of the day. If I had to work in an office, or raise kids perhaps I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.
“Since I work with mostly nerdy male database types, I usually need to elaborate well past the point of awkwardness.”
LOL – yep…
I’ve been working my way down this path for awhile now and I am continually amazed at the number of skills I am having to rediscover. Most of us don’t even know the Super Awesome Things we are missing.
For example, I never liked canned fruit growing up; think “fruit cocktail” that so many of us were raised on. Because that was my entire life experience with canned fruit, it never occurred to me that canned fruit could actually be awesome. I canned pear halves this fall and nearly swooned when I cracked open a jar. A completely different experience. So, now that is a Super Awesome Thing added to my rotation every year.
But, figuring this out in an affordable non-Pinteresty way so that these things become part of the routine requires a real leap from how a significant percentage of U.S.residents were raised.
How did that plum cider turn out?
Oh, man, all of that. My colleagues seem to think I’m part fairy godmother because I can do things like make BREAD and YOGURT and also darn clothes and sew a straight seam and have hobbies related to traditional ‘woman’ tasks. *sigh*
And then they seem to have the assumption that I’m really, in my heart-of-hearts, super conservative and wanting to be a housewife… and I’m like, guys, it’s possible to make bread and yogurt and sew and like being a mother and ALSO be a queer, leaning-towards-the-left activist…
“Guys, it’s possible to make bread and yogurt and sew and like being a mother and ALSO be a queer, leaning-towards-the-left activist…”
One of the things I find most rewarding about the urban homesteading “movement” or issues of food sovereignty is the shockingly efficient way it can bring people together from groups you would not expect to share common ground. Like, super liberal hippie types wanting their raw milk find support from conservative religious types, and vise versa.
Modern media and politics really depend on making us think everyone has a label, and with this label comes a little checklist of passion issues, and anyone with a different label is to be feared as the enemy, and everyone who doesn’t share the “right” passion issues is a heretic of their label.
But if we strip away the labels, it becomes clear that the issues people care about do cross these stereotypes and can be points of engagement and of bringing together, instead of tools of divisiveness and fear-mongering.
Ien in the Kootenays says
You might enjoy these rants, if you have 5 minutes.
What is the DEAL about the goat question? I’ve been asked that a million times!
Ien in the Kootenays says
Great post. On the topic of food ignorance, I once had this dialogue at the till of the local hardware/feed store. As I am paying for my feed, the young woman asked how many birds I had. “Right now, a dozen, but I won’t carry all of them through winter. The roosters will go into the freezer.” The cashier’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know you could eat roosters!” She gasped. Me: “What do you think half the birds in the grocery store are?” She: ” Well, you know. CHICKEN!”
M Jarvis says
Good writeup Homebrew Hubby…
What often frustrates me when people hear about the limited ‘homesteading’ I do (chickens, ducks, gardening etc) is they so so so often start to lecture me on the benefits of homegrown eggs and fresh veggies… THANKS – but I know that – I DO that – I’m NOT a freekin’ idiot thank-you-very-much…
You don’t even have to do much to get that rush. Even when my garden was just a basil plant on my apartment deck, I felt great every time I plucked a few leaves for dinner. And when you spend a few minutes to make your own ricotta (milk, yogurt, salt, citrus) with the tang of lime juice–definitely better than any you could buy, you get to choose the moisture content, and you have all that whey left over to make bread or soup or whatever.
Love this post! I can get all my grumpies out through it and not have to bother with it all myself. I’ve given and sold eggs and produce to neighbors and co-workers too, but they never did understand the drop in egg production each winter — which secretly frustrated me, because I so wanted to please and keep everyone happy and not have to repeatedly explain the situation.
And this post gets me giggling because I have the luxury now to be silly — as I’m a former hardcore farm girl (dairy herd, beef herd, pig herd, barnyard guardian geese & dogs and all) who now lets her few pet hens age gracefully into post-retirement and die of old age. OK. May be not! But even if not egg laying — they still have garden jobs! Which they happily do. But yes, tho’ I don’t buy commercial feed for them, I do coddle them. Imagine that. Or not. Shh!
This reminds me… A couple years ago I had a few too many carrots and gave some to my brother’s girlfriend. She was delighted and took them to work in her lunch. One of her coworkers, noticing they had some dirt on them, asked “where did you get those? The ground?”. Ugh. It’s definitely frustrating, but nice to know you’ll do OK in the zombie apocalypse.
Heee! Ok, I just couldn’t help but remember this comic regarding “Chicken Menstruation.” Please enjoy, but know that the whole comic is pretty good at pretty offensive, particularly in its early days.
My husband’s kids are amazed at what I can do. “You can make SALSA?” Same reaction to jam, ketchup, candy, caramel, cheese, yogurt, salad dressing, etc. My answer, as they have come to expect, is, “If it doesn’t grow on trees or in the ground, it’s not raised on a farm or hunted in the wild, if it doesn’t fall from the sky, and it’s not mined from the earth, it can be made.”
I thought of another chicken question that I’ve gotten a few times. “How do you know there isn’t going to be a baby chick inside the egg when you open it?” No rooster. “But, what if they hide the egg and you don’t find it for a while?” Still no rooster. “Well, then how do they lay eggs?”…revert to question #1 on the list.
Love this post… you’re almost as funny as your wife !!
Thank you for such great writing. always
Margaret @ Live Like No One Else says
I laughed at the chicken soup part. I too was born outside of the US on a homestead and that was really the only meat we ate, our retired chickens. But the reactions from people are very funny. The only person that knew what happens to our chickens was our neighbor…she’s a vet! LOL
Love this. Especially bringing the ducks to work! Ha!
SO true – I’ve mentioned to a couple people at work that we have chickens and the next thing they’ve said is – “You should get goats!” and then moments later I’m looking at Goat Babies in Pajamas or Pyrenees Mountain Dogs being completely low-key while they’re swarmed by spring-footed kids. And in the back of my mind I’m now thinking “But they’ll eat my car!”