The Tradeoff of the Redneck One Percent


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Life changes when you find yourself with 49 chickens


Sometimes I click on "Last-Minute Getaways" on Travelocity. I'm particularly vulnerable when I'm on deadline. That's when I get in really deep, clicking further and further until I'm a mouse tap away from booking a room. The Trout Room, perhaps.


The Trout Room is a suite at the Pitcher Inn, a hotel in Vermont where husband Joe and I stayed when I was pregnant. A relative had given us the gift of a night there. We're not usually big on packaged experiences, and by the time we rolled up, we were short-tempered and unconvinced that any hotel was worth a six-hour drive. Then we saw our room.


When the door shut behind us, we started giggling like lunatic criminals. There was a fire going in the giant fireplace. The wall was lined with antique canoe paddles. We jumped into the massive bed, whose headboard was carved from a gnarled tree, its bark and littlest branches still attached. Joe took a nap, but there was no way I was closing my eyes, not when there were free scones in the tea room, a rushing river out the window, a mountain scene carved out of black and white marble above the bathtub. This was a once-in-a-lifetime weekend, or at best, once-in-the-next-30-years. Maybe we'd come back to this very room to celebrate our retirement.


As it turns out, I was right to assume that our honeymoon-ish excursions were about to come to an abrupt intermission. But it's not because there are now three of us. It's because of our chickens.


We love our 49 chickens, don't get me wrong. They are incredible and fascinating creatures, full of personality, and we can't shut up about them. At weddings, and, okay, even at one funeral, you can find us off a little ways gossiping about our girls with an aunt in Los Angeles who has six hens. Cousins stroll over, listen for a second, roll their eyes and walk away.


Everyone should cohabitate with chickens at some point in their lives. They're okay in single-digit and 100-degree weather. They rode out Hurricane Sandy and puffed up their feathers through the polar vortex, laying eggs all the while.


And oh, the eggs. I had never really looked at an egg ? why would you? ? until two years ago now, when Joe came in one morning carrying two little bluish green beauties. We consume seven of them every morning: three for each of us and one for the baby. We feel like the nouveau riche, the redneck one percent, now that we have enough that we can give away dozens. And a couple weeks ago, we started selling them to friends and co-workers.


The last time I felt such a thrill at receiving a little cash was in first grade, when my friend and I set up a "tag sale" on the road outside his house, trying to hawk odds and ends we'd found in his garage. No one stopped, so my friend's mom sent his brother out to buy something (which probably belonged to him in the first place). I forget what he bought, but I remember that dollar.


Selling eggs is downright fulfilling. We get front-row seats to this show of perfect symbiosis: our chickens roam free, converting slugs and mulberries and kitchen scraps into these cleverly encased packets of protein. And we're providing food to people we care about that's better and fresher than what they can get anywhere else, particularly this time of year, when farmers markets are scarce.


And yet. There's that one stubborn detail, a fact we neglected to consider before we ordered our chicks: farmers don't get to go on vacation. Obviously, the chickens need to be fed and watered and let out in the morning and put away at night, every single solitary day. You can't drop 50 chickens off at the kennel for a week. We do have neighbors we can recruit to help, but it's a big favor, so we save it for when we really need it. There is no impromptu road tripping to go snowboarding or to play ultimate Frisbee ? at least not for both of us. Our new M.O. is dividing and conquering. You stay home, we'll have a girls' city weekend; we'll stay, you go play Frisbee golf. There is no Trout Room in our foreseeable future.


In which case, we've talked it over and come to the conclusion: we might as well get more chickens. Who wants eggs?


Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite who now lives on a farm upstate and writes about rural life.


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