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