Chickens are nothing new to L.A. — Highland Park has the white noise of the freeway juxtaposed with the crows of several competing roosters who live along the Arroyo. Then there are the famed Freeway Chickens of Los Angeles, who have been living under the Vineland off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway since the early 1970s (there's a second colony two miles away at the Burbank off-ramp). Chickens have been our neighbors for a while now. What is new are the growing numbers of urban homesteaders and backyard farmers who are transforming their tiny tracts — sometimes even balconies — into mini-barnyards.
There is one inevitable dilemma faced by every backyard chicken keeper: Over time, birds stop laying, unwanted roosters crow their way into adulthood and urban flockers may start contemplating “table retirement” options in order to make room for more productive (and less annoying) livestock. Collecting eggs is easy, but going from coop to kitchen isn't something most L.A. urban farmers have grown up with. And it can tweak all sorts of hot buttons, from emotional to political. Market, meet class — the Institute for Domestic Technology — turning feminist-curdling Home Ec sensibilities into reputable home science with a sustainable twist — is offering a new Coop to Kitchen course on Sunday, March 25, to help interested chicken folk responsibly and humanely manage their birds. No bird required. They've been carefully raising heritage breed chickens specifically for this class. Details after the jump.
For the locally obsessed, the demo birds have been enjoying our abnormally warm winter up in the foothills of Altadena at the home of one of the class instructors, Christian Sariol, whose SugarHouse Farms raises more than 100 heritage breed birds. The breed chosen for this class is the Transylvanian Naked Neck, an old genetic variant from Europe that is devoid of plumage from head to shoulders, is heat-tolerant (great for L.A. flocks) and serves as a great multipurpose bird, giving great egg and good meat for a bird its size. Each class attendee with be given one bird and will be provided with all the tools and training required to humanely dispatch it.
“Responsible flock management” doesn't fully address the serious side of this class. Claiming dedication to your own food production takes on a different aspect when meeting your meat. Students will go though the entire process, from catching their bird in the coop — an important aspect of the “humane” part of this equation and often overlooked as silly — to performing humane exsanguination, plucking and finally, butchering, all with attentive one-on-one instruction (hence the very limited class size). Instructors also will discuss breed selection for your flock and what birds are best for your poulet au vin vs. arroz con pollo.
The class fee is $195, but considering the depth of instruction and the sensitivity required when holding the hands of livestock-butchering newbies, it's likely worth every penny. The other option, of course, is to keep all your birds until they expire naturally. Totally doable if you have the space and the determination — chickens can live an average of seven years, spending nearly three quarters of that time as unproductive but entertaining livestock, assuming that's what you want. Rare is the urban farmer who gets a chicken without dreams of home-produced eggs. Thinking beyond the albumen means defining what “retirement” will encompass and then educating yourself accordingly.
Felicia Friesema is a Master Food Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension and Co-Leader of Slow Food USA's Los Angeles chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaFriesema.