As I got ready to purchase my first home, there was one non-negotiable: a yard. After more than a decade renting small apartments in denser areas, growing scrappy little gardens in windows and on balconies, I knew that if I were committing to a mortgage, it would have to come with my own patch of dirt.
Almost immediately, I found a perfect fit. On a whim, I toured a 1942 ranch house on the outskirts of Seattle, not far from where I grew up, that looked almost exactly like the home in The Little House, one of my favorite childhood picture books. Its small footprint left plenty of room for the already-established front bed, a greenhouse, and berry bushes. A grapevine wound around the front fence—a literal white picket fence—and wisteria and hops thrived around the back porch. It was out of the way enough to have that gardening space, but still a 15-minute walk from a thriving stretch of small businesses, including my favorite roller rink.
The answer was maybe, depending on the offer. While I initially started my offer letter by addressing the previous homeowners as the “current inhabitants of my chicken dream palace,” I eventually toned it down to “I love your chickens very much already and promise to safely steward them” (and called them “extremely gorgeous,” because they’re perfect).
If you’re thinking that’s so Seattle, you wouldn’t be wrong. After hearing I’d bought a house with chickens, a family friend reached out asking if I’d bought her friend’s home—apparently, she’d also included a flock with the purchase. My neighborhood group recently discussed a pair of hens living in a nearby traffic circle. I offered eggs to my neighbor across the alley and he declined, saying he already had a “source.” When I bought a cantaloupe for my chickens at a local Trader Joe’s, my cashier understood all too well: She loved her chickens so much she’d gotten a tattoo in their honor.
My partner and I had been living in and around the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, which felt like my spiritual home since I was a teenager, for nearly a decade. I once dreamed of buying a fixer nearby, but skyrocketing home prices took that plan off the table.
Besides, my neighborhood and I had clearly outgrown each other: While Capitol Hill is, in some ways, still the queer arts hub I fell in love with, it’s grown into more and more of a nightlife destination, with small venues replaced by long club lines. Meanwhile, I’d started to develop a latent agoraphobia inherited from both my parents—something that flummoxed me as a kid but that was becoming more and more of a reality as I zigzagged through people making beer runs every time I went to buy groceries. As I entered my 30s, I longed for space to breathe. My partner, who is the most dramatically introverted human I know, had been in that headspace for even longer. The day we moved in, he sat on the back steps, looked at our peaceful, quiet yard, and visibly relaxed.
When I pictured my early days of homeownership, I thought I’d be digging up lawns, putting together makeshift planting systems, and setting myself up for a growing garden the next year, maybe eventually upgrading to small livestock. Instead, overnight, I became the caretaker for an overgrown vegetable garden, a packed greenhouse, and six chatty, social chickens—coop and all.
I’d had some time to prepare. As soon as I put in my offer, I dove headfirst into Chicken Internet, poring through forum arguments about cedar bedding, learning that wintertime is nothing like it is in Stardew Valley, and browsing chicken accessories on Etsy. In my head, I was already a chicken person.
Before handing off the home, one of the previous owners told me that chickens are “like goldfish” in terms of care, and in some ways, she wasn’t wrong. Their essential needs are food, water, and a clean habitat. But what separates chickens from goldfish, other than feathers, fresh eggs, and much bigger poops, are their personalities. I find myself more charmed each day by their Oompa Loompa-esque waddle-run when I let them out to range in the morning. After less than a week of daily treats, they started following me around the yard as though I was some kind of barnyard Disney princess. I get distracted just watching them eat watermelon—they love it, and they do this cute thing with their beaks that’s kind of between eating and drinking.
The chickens even came with perfect names. There’s Emerald, the highest in the pecking order, with gleaming black-green tail feathers and unshakeable confidence. Gertie and Mabel, a gold-colored pair, have the tiniest brains (Gertie frequently can’t figure out the coop door and walks behind it), but the strongest bond between any of the chickens, kindly grooming each other and roosting close together each night. Whitney and Mariah are the youngest in the flock, both with furry feet. The former is brave, and clever when it comes to getting to her favorite dust bath in the neighbor’s yard. The latter is dramatic—appropriate to her namesake—with the loudest song and dance to announce a brand-new egg. She also excels at pizza-crust keepaway.
Then there’s Shoop, a Barred Rock named for her salt-and-pepper pattern, the second-highest in the pecking order and the smartest and most social by a landslide. She frequently separates from the flock for independent exploration. While the others are still relatively skittish about touch, Shoop lets me pet her without protest. She’s the first at the back door when it opens, and sometimes even shows up at my front door—the first time it happened, I heard a cluck coming from the front yard and found her right on the stoop, looking like a traveling encyclopedia salesman.
It may seem like my hens added a layer of intensity to my changing life, but they’ve actually made the transition easier. As I moved in, they gave me a project besides hauling and unpacking. I let them out to range every day, so they get me outside first thing in the morning—I love the sun, but in my old neighborhood, sometimes social anxiety would keep me from leaving my apartment to soak it in during the day.
Caring for the chickens meant I was deep in the long-term of my new life from day one, and putting in the work gives me more motivation and energy to work on other aspects of my home—even the interior, which is a no-chicken zone. I discovered that having a garage makes refinishing a bookshelf go from a maybe-someday task to a normal Tuesday afternoon. I even kind of enjoy my daily battle between my temperamental, unstoppable wisteria and my roof.
The chickens’ acceptance of me—even though it’s probably acceptance of a new person giving them snacks—makes me feel more at home.
Sarah Anne Lloyd is a Seattle-based writer, editor, catsitter, and yoga teacher, and former editor of Curbed Seattle. Her work has appeared in the Seattle Times, the Stranger, the Seattle Weekly, the Verge, and others. In addition to the six chickens, she shares her little house with her partner and the most perfect, goodest, giantest cat.