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Animal Husbandry Project

Sheep rambunctiously asserting
dominance over
a sheep

Update: Brian XXX wrote to me in October 2003. I have incorporated his corrections in this web page. In the future I shall endeavor to remember that people actually read stuff that’s on the web...
I looked into keeping chickens as household animals. There’s actually a guy I know who keeps chickens, geese, sheep, ducks, doves, a turkey, and more at a house in the middle of Palo Alto, Calif. After he got his Ph.D. he continued to live with a friend of his, Brian XXX, in a beat-up house on an acre of land.
The story goes something like this: 1) Back in the early 20s, when Palo Alto was little more than a horse and dairy farm, the friend’s great-great grandparents, who moved here for a Stanford faculty job bought an acreage in Barron Park, which was not part of Palo Alto ‘til the 60s or so, and 2) built a “shack” (which Brian indignantly notes is a proper redwood cottage, thank you, to live in while they built the main house, an exact duplicate of their previous house which supposedly still stands in Kansas City) on the acreage. 3) The friend’s family kept the shack over the years, never really upgrading it much, and never selling any land because one can’t subdivide an acre in their zone. 4) Yuppies infested Palo Alto over the past few decades (Brian says: Hear, hear! And their steady traffic of leaf blowers and grocery trucks, water trucks, FedEx and UPS trucks and maids and landscapers and contractors and furniture movers and plumbers and tutors and babysitters and housesitters and personal coaches and dogwalkers and...), and then 5) the friend up and decides one day to carry on and restore his relatives’ tradition of keeping farm animals, who had a farm before coming here and once here continued to keep animals over the years. Brian grew up farming, so it is his tradition, too.
Yes, the yuppies are pissed, and he had a lot of trouble with the city. The city “fucked with them facelessly,” that is, “in a most cowardly and anonymous manner,” for a while, but that’s all under control now that they’ve passed inspection by every division of the city and the complainers have “exposed themselves as vindictive abusers of the system and taxpayer dollars.” Anyway, they receive so much gratitude from the community that it’s easy to ignore a few “dickheads,” and the city seems to be nice to them now. Just last night a cop car shone a spotlight on the sheep while they were grazing in the park at 1 a.m. The cops checked them out for a while, then just moved on.
I Have a Dream

Irene feeding a nice little white wether

My dream was to raise livestock. Maybe it came from having two parents who grew up on farms. But not having a Palo Alto estate in the family, accomplishing my goal of raising livestock in Palo Alto was a little hard. (Brian graciously offered to help me, but thought has led me to conclude that I’m not responsible enough to care for animals.) It turns out that one of the cooperative houses on campus, Synergy, used to raise chickens many years ago. I think with enough cajoling, it would probably be possible to get the university to agree to let us raise chickens in one of the other cooperative houses, Columbae. But there were other problems.

One of Hektor’s noisy-ass roosters

If Warner Brothers cartoons taught us anything about farm animals, it’s that roosters are like alarm clocks with feathers: They crow once a day when the sun comes up. Unfortunately, that’s completely wrong! Roosters crow all the fucking time. They crow at anything that gets their attention. If you want to quiet a rooster, you have to put it in a dark room and either make it really quiet or really noisy. Getting rid of roosters isn’t practical, either. Most chick suppliers will give you “straight runs,” which means you get 50% boy chicks and 50% girl chicks. Not only would you have to kill the boy chicks yourself to prevent roosters (not something to impress the ladies with!), but you can’t tell which ones are boys until the chicks are a few weeks ago. What’s more, the hens need a few roosters for their social structure. You do want to buy pre-hatched chicks, too. Incubators are unbelievably expensive, and you’ll never recoup the cost. The cheaper ones have low yields, too. Much better to buy chicks than eggs. Another potential problem is vandalism. Unless the house is secluded, like Synergy is, it is possible that we would lose chickens to theft and pranksters. But Brian bets not. “When it comes to actually getting in there and catching a chicken, most people are, well, chicken.” And they’ll make tons of noise. And people around there will get endeared to them and watch out for them. And you can easily put a lock on the coop. “People aren’t so much a problem; raccoons are the real enemy.”
What originally killed the idea for me is that chickens require year-round care. I thought that it would be hard at a mostly undergraduate school to find someone to care for the chickens during the summer, spring break, and Christmas break, but Brian has persuaded me that this is nonsense and that I’m just making excuses. “Cross that bridge when you come to it. Laying hens are easy to get rid of or loan out for the summer. Why, the city of PA will even take them for free (including roosters, man!), although I don’t recommend it.” If you’ve got a swell guy like Brian helping you out, raising chickens can be practical even for people without full-time jobs or who don’t own their own houses. People interested in raising chickens should consider Murray McMurray Hatchery. Hektor gets his chickens there, and they’re quite beautiful.