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I'm happy I don't have to raise chickens

When the egg carton gets empty, Jenny Schlecht is happy she can go to the store rather than the chicken coop. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service1 / 2
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During a recent trip to Montana, my Grandma Marguerite and I somehow ended up on the topic of urban chickens. I'm not sure how we got there. It might have been something about how our new cats live in an old chicken coop on our farm or about how my aunt's neighbors in the middle of town are raising chickens.

But as we were talking on the subject of the trendiness of people raising their own poultry, whether for meat or for eggs, Grandma dropped a line that I both knew to be true but sort of never really thought about:

"We all used to have chickens."

I knew that, of course. People had their own chickens. Eggs are a staple, and stores weren't always as readily accessible as they are now. But knowing in the abstract that people used to have chickens isn't the same as thinking through the reality of the day-to-day commitment that meant to people's lives. They need to be fed every day. Eggs need to be gathered and cleaned. Predators need to be kept at bay. Excess eggs have to be sold or given away.

I grew up on a chicken-less farm. The chicken coop that remained was, to me and my cousins, a good place to play. The fact that it once housed chickens as a necessity seemed like something that must have happened far back in history, not just a generation earlier.

I am 34 years old. The world in which I have lived has been an easier, gentler world in many ways than the people who came before me. I don't live near a store, but when needed, the store comes to me, in the form of UPS, FedEx or U.S. Postal Service vehicles. When I do go grocery shopping, I can find anything I want in abundance. I have a refrigerator and two chest freezers, so I can buy all that I'll need and ensure it doesn't spoil.

Even as someone who has lived her entire life on farms and ranches, I forget sometimes just what the work done on other farms and ranches means for me. I've never purchased more than a few pounds of hamburger, because my dad and my husband have always kept our freezers full. But one can't live on beef alone. And thanks to modern agriculture, we don't have to.

I drink milk in abundance. I also have never milked a cow. I cook with eggs in one form or another multiple times each week, yet I have never gathered an egg or cleaned one. I eat chicken, but I've never plucked one. I love bacon, but the closest I've been to a pig was getting chased out of the ring by an angry one during a 4-H showmanship round robin as a kid. I eat fruit but do not have an orchard. I wear jeans most days, but I wouldn't have the slightest clue how to raise cotton or turn it into cloth.

I know there are people who want to be self-sufficient and raise all or most of the food their families consume. They spin their own wool. They live off the land. And I applaud them for it. It take enormous effort to garden, preserve food or care for poultry or dairy animals.

As for me, I take pride in the very, very local meat in my freezer. But I'm also glad we don't have to raise our own chickens to ensure we have eggs. I'll buy most of my food from the grocery store or the occasional farmers market, knowing that the farmers and ranchers who raise the items I purchase know how to do their jobs and provide a safe, plentiful food source for everyone else.

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