I recently had the pleasure of learning about a fantastic local farm called 2 Brown Chicks Family Farm. Owners Joanne Alcantara & Boo Torres both have a long history of activism & community building – and the farm is no exception. There is a lot to love about what they are doing. The part I’m seriously digging is how they use urban farming as a way to expand their passionate commitment to community building and social justice. Talk about living your values! You can (& should!) read more about them on their website and also here!
The queer thing about chickens
by Joanne Alcantara, co-owner of 2 Brown Chicks Family Farm
My partner and I recently started raising Rhode Island Reds in Skyway on our small urban farm. As chicks, they acted much like new born babies — sleeping, eating, pooping, drinking, playing and making noises throughout the night. New to raising chicks, we treated the first set very tenderly, watching them curiously and handling them gently during any spare hour of the day.
As they got older, they got more active, flying out of their box when it was time to clean their litter or fill up their food. They played and chewed on any garden morsel we gave them; grass clippings, dandelions and dirt were among their favorites. They ran and stretched their growing wings from one end of their box to the other.
When the chicks started to feather out, losing their original fuzz, they grew more weather tolerant and were able to run outside. We moved them outside with plenty of bedding on the floor and a nearby heat lamp to keep them warm. Day by day they grew more adventurous of their surroundings and spent more time outside. At first, we only let them out when we were home. However, as they got a little tougher, we let them run unsupervised around our small farm.
It wasn’t until our first set of chickens started to lay eggs that we were sure they were hens and not a bunch of roosters. For me, this has been the queerest part of raising chickens. With a handful of little chicks, we have no idea what we’re going to get. Part of the fun is watching them grow to become who they intend to be.
Currently we have 10 chickens in their “coming of age.” Some have long and beautiful tail feathers. Some are still very small and brown. Some have rose combs, others have tall upright combs and the rest haven’t come up yet. And yes, much of this can be attributed to breeding, but some of it is just part of life’s daily mysteries and gentle reminders that people (even as animal caretakers) are not in charge of everything.
In the past month, three of our many chickens died while they roamed our little farm. Two, we believe, were eaten by hawks. One was shot in front of our home by someone with a pellet gun. All of the deaths were shocking, but the unnatural shooting of our beloved animal has been the hardest to swallow. The remains of all three birds were buried on the farm with a prayer for new life as they returned to the soil. And while we strengthened the fences and defences for our chickens, they continue to show us every day that they’re ready to escape and try things again.
The amazing Gloria Anzaldua, queer Chicana poet, once said, “I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails.” Sometimes when I look out at our chickens, watch them peck and play from the kitchen window, I think they’re on to something. As they grow, they show us their true selves. As they explore, they run freely into life’s dangers. And, even in death, they create and make possible another cycle of life.
It’s not such a bad life to be a chicken. They run into the same dilemmas that we do as activists and organizers: live caged and lifeless or freely with the risk of death.