If your life has gotten too complicated, simplify it as best you can. Maybe raise some chickens. They like watermelon, curly hair and they’ll make you smile. Photo: Eileen Benthal

The inspiration for raising chickens came as I sat in my garden.

I looked at the four beds my husband and I constructed a year ago and imagined pretty chickens sitting on Jo’s lap and running around the garden.

The chickens would also supply our family with eggs and entertainment — or as Johanna calls it, “eggertainment” —because every word now having anything to do with chickens can now be started with “egg.”

I’d like to think it was a mix of divine inspiration and advocacy that led me to this fowl pursuit.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have enough to do with caring for three dogs, an elderly cat with nine lives, doctor appointments, and the daily life of caregiving.

Still, I realized early on in quarantine that my daughter’s opportunities for daily life and activities were moving from the local community to our own home and backyard. I didn’t want to relegate her to a life of socialization and activities on ZOOM for the next year while the healthcare professionals and government politicians argue about how to proceed and win the battle against coronavirus.

Most of Jo’s “jobs” in the community were through the kindness of local entrepreneurs who allowed her to do humble tasks like folding boxes and napkins and stamping bags in exchange for discounts on donuts, burgers, and her beloved “cup of Jo.” These were important parts of Jo’s life and a way for her to connect with friends in the local community — especially after surgeries and long stays in the hospital.

I saw raising chickens as a way for Jo to learn more about nature (she loves birds and dogs) and to hone her skills at collecting eggs and selling them to our neighbors and friends. Between her artwork, music, and caring for her service dog and chickens, I knew we could inspire more hope for Jo’s future and do something fun!

The first few weeks of raising chicks were a little challenging. My husband agreed to build a coop as long as I was willing to take care of the day-to-day tasks of raising the chickens. Actually, he rebuilt a website for a coop company instead and bartered for our coop. As I started researching types of chickens and what they needed, I was a little overwhelmed until I found a flock — of people — on Facebook.

The Long Island Chicken Keepers has over 3k members who are from all over Long Island and Queens. This private group is composed of people who have been raising chickens for many years and those of us who just started in 2020.

The group grew quickly as people turned to chicken farming. It’s a friendly group of people with a lot of great information on raising chickens. Some people are raising chickens as meat, some for the eggs, and many of us treat them as backyard pets.

I’ve learned a lot about life from raising chickens.

Boundaries are important and necessary.

When the chickens were babies we housed them in an extra-large plastic container and we kept them in the house in an area of our bathroom that had been under construction since the fall. They needed to be kept warm and dry with a heat lamp. They were so tiny and fuzzy and fun to hold — for about three weeks.

But when they started jumping out of the box and exploring the house — one had an affinity for breaking out and appearing in the kitchen — I told my husband to build the run quickly so they could at least be outside during the day. Every space we gave them,they were eager to break out of and explore until one night I found them perching over Jo’s shoulder watching her brush her teeth!

While most chicken mamas worry about their flock’s first night in the coop, I was more than happy to tuck them into their little house and say “good night.” Yes, boundaries are very good and our chickens have their chicken world and I have mine. We can meet in the garden but never again in the house!

Protect your flock.

Although I was unaware when I purchased the chicks, one of them is a rooster. I loved this chicken above all from the very beginning. He sought me out as the leader and caretaker. Maybe he realized that I was there to protect the flock from hunger and the unknown perils of the world. We named him “Goldie” because he’s a beautiful golden-laced Wyandotte and he stood out from the rest of the flock.

I knew Goldie was the alpha-chicken by the way the others seem to respond and by the way he ran to greet me and our golden retriever puppy. He even let the puppy sniff him and get close to him and then he pecked the puppy on the nose to let her know who was the boss.

Goldie protects the flock. We have hawks and vultures that fly around above us and in the woods behind our house. I loved watching them — until we started raising chickens and I realized they were predators. When a hawk is overhead the songbirds make a wild raucous that sounds like a siren.

I run to out to check on the chickens whenever I hear that sound. By the time I arrive, Goldie has already corralled the hens safely in the coop. I thank him for being the best rooster ever and close the door to the run. Goldie protects the flock and reminds me that families are our most precious treasures.

My chickens also remind me that simple things can bring us some of the greatest joys.

I’ve always been a morning person. When I was growing up- my mom often said “Well, you’re up with the chickens.” I guess her words stuck in my subconscious. A little more than half a century later, I realize that I was born for a backyard farm life.

When I wake up in the morning- after I’ve given Jo her meds and settled her with coffee, I head outside — dogs in tow — to the garden and to let the chickens out of the coop.

They greet me with their cute little clucking sounds and follow me around as I get their food and water set up. Sometimes I just sit in the garden and listen to their funny little sounds. They mostly hang out by my feet and some come close enough as if they are ready to ask me a question.

“Got blueberries?”

The dogs stare through the fence patiently waiting for me to complete my garden contemplations so they can have breakfast. A peace settles in my soul as the sun rises above the trees.

Johanna’s hair is finally growing in after these most recent brain surgeries. The left side of her head hasn’t been operated on as much as the right so her hair is a little longer and curlier. One curl drops onto her forehead and even sometimes hangs near her left eye.

The chickens are noticing Jo’s curls. Two of Jo’s favorites- Sophie and Speckles like to sit on Jo’s lap and play with that curl, wondering if it’s a worm. Now we call it “Jo’s chicken curl”. I asked Jo last week if she wants me to trim the chicken curl.

She shook her head no, laughed, and answered; “My chickens like simple things like my chicken curl. I like to keep it simple.”

I like simple things too — like the sun rising on the garden and chickens clucking around my feet. And I love to watch Jo laugh as she plays with her chickens and her dogs.

Some of the best lessons in life are the ones learned in the simplicity of life. I’ll take a simple life done in love over chaos any day.

If your life has gotten too complicated, simplify it as best you can. Maybe raise some chickens. They like watermelon, curly hair and they’ll make you smile.

We need your help.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen