Why We Have Chickens: My Family Will Survive the Apocalypse While Your Family Starves

I was raised to be apocalyptic. I never knew this, of course. Does the guppy know water? I didn’t realize that I was groomed to face society’s doom until I was eighteen. By that time, it was too late for me.

You see, while other little girls played with Barbies, I sat on the floor next to my dad, an unplugged PlayStation controller in hand, and pretended to blow the heads off zombies. While other girls spent weekends at the mall, I spent them with my dad, shooting Christmas Coca Cola cans until we could hit the polar bears from 30 yards away. When other girls refused to associate with their fathers, my dad and I were getting matching pentagram tattoos to guard against demonic possession – just in case.

Don’t worry. I’m not a romantic. I know that when the apocalypse comes, there will be no monsters: no undead, bloodthirsty scapegoats. There will be no sounding of angelic trumpets. No devils crawling from black smoke. It will be humanity that unravels civilization. The global economy will collapse and people will do whatever is necessary to survive.

When this happens, my family will be prepared. You see, in the end, the rifles mounted on the wall won’t be enough to sustain us. The concrete, one-way-in/one-way-out panic room won’t save us from the rumbling in our stomachs. Civilization or not, we’ll still need to eat.

This is where the chickens come in.

Chickens are self-sustaining protein factories. They eat the scraps from our meals, everything from rotten grapes to corn cobs to watermelon rinds. If left to their own devices, they slurp down worms and dig meat out of buggy exoskeletons. They, themselves, consist of meat: delectable meat that all other meats strive to imitate. After all, everything tastes like chicken. Of course, I will never (circumstances permitting) eat our chickens. The very idea repulses the pseudo-lacto-ovo vegetarian in me. I am content to devour their eggs, the most plentiful product the protein factories manufacture.

Originally, my parents bought six chickens. They were supposed to be Bantam hens, because they are small and easily domesticated. The more likely reason is that my parents think the feathers around their legs – or “the boots with the fur,” as my mom calls them – are adorable. However, we made the unfortunate mistake of buying chicks at Easter. By the time we reached Family Center, dozens of grubby-handed children had snatched up the chicks and moved them from one aluminum tank to the next, scrambling the breeds into indiscernible chaos. Therefore, instead of six Bantams, we have three Bantams, one Wyandotte, one Rhode Island Red, and one bird resembling a pheasant. Oh, and two of them are roosters, which incidentally, do not lay eggs.

Due to these unexpected complications, my dad took it upon himself to acquire six laying hens from the local Farmers’ Co-Op. While the other chickens all have distinct colorings, making them worthy of individual names (Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hestia, Persephone), the six, identical laying hens are known collectively as “The Dinosaurs.” These hens are a testament to evolution. They have gangly, scaled legs, long necks, and wide, black eyes. If I stripped them of their feathers, they would look like Velociraptors. The only excuse for their ugliness is the large, white eggs they lay: the eggs that will keep us alive.

I’m not crazy. I know that the odds of an apocalypse – be it pandemic, demonic, or economic – are slim to none. I know that, if an apocalypse arose, I would not have the guts to shoot a zombie, let alone a human. I know that, even if I became a ruthless sniper, my family’s tiny flock of chickens would not be enough to feed us forever. But you know what they say…

Better safe than sorry.


This creative nonfiction essay is from my Multi-Genre workshop from Baker University. If you cannot tell, it was written in 2012, when the Mayan apocalypse and doomsday prepping were insanely popular topics. It was featured in the 2013 edition of Watershed Literary Magazine.

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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5 comments on “Why We Have Chickens: My Family Will Survive the Apocalypse While Your Family Starves
  1. hirundine608 says:

    Interesting.

    We too, kept chickens for over 25 years. Or at least I did. My ex. wanted them, yet for whatever reason? Seldom did anything about them. Though credit where credit’s due. She would clean the coop every spring. Which was a blessing. Though she never quite got the concept of monthly clean-out? Still a little help is better than none, i would say. Still do.

    Like yourself, we started with bantams. I remember being intrigued with their smaller eggs. Although when we bought the acreage the previous owner left the flock, they had. It was six large brown hens and one aracana. Which was not known to me. It even looked a little scary with a hawk-like face. Yet, it was the sweetest bird. Laid small blue eggs, or a greensish-blue. Depending. We had that bird for about ten or eleven years. Whereas the others had finished laying in three and died in about six years.

    I could never kill the birds, for eating. They were like family. Would you eat your family?

    Except two roosters. They were known as “polish”. – As in the country, not the shine. They had this little top-not of feathers. Punk-rockers said the Italian man, who gave them to us. They also had spurs, about six inches of pure venom. When your back was turned they would attack. Raking them down the calves of legs. One day they did it to a boy, the son of a friend. That was it! Out came the.22 and I popped that one. About a month later I had to do in his brother. “Cause once the dominant one was dead, he took over. Same deal. Couldn’t keep him in the coop. He would fly out and nonchalantly wander around eating bugs, until the back was turned. Then wham! Well he got whammed too. They were buried, not eaten.

    Over the years, we had many different varieties. The aracanas were best. Laying yellow-gold, to robin-eggs blue eggs and all shades in between. Their hawk-like faces belied a peaceful disposition.

    Oh and armageddon? I have some bush skills and should it arrive … which I doubt. I will not want to slow myself down, carting around hens. Tofu lasts almost forever, when it’s sealed air-tight in the brine.

    Yet fresh eggs are a delight and once people know you will sell a dozen? Always have a little income, that helps buy grain. Also, will feed the sasquatch. But that’s another story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. R. J. Nello says:

    Uh, hail is falling outside (our house here in the West of England). That can’t be a good sign. I’m wishing now that we had chickens. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] need the escape the apocalypse offers. We needed it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I know I love the romanticism of it — the freedom from modern worries, the lack of rules, the return-to-basics survivalism. Mad […]

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