Swift: Not to ruffle any feathers, but this farm girl knows chicken-keeping can be hard work

A recent West Fargo survey shows the majority of residents favor the right to keep backyard chickens but columnist/former farm girl Tammy Swift cautions not to count our chickens before they hatch.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.

So I’m not one to cluck my tongue, but apparently West Fargo is currently pecking and scratching its way toward a “pro-chicken” agenda.

In a recent city survey of 1,427 residents, 824 supported the notion of being allowed to keep backyard chickens.

Another 542 cried “fowl” at the notion, citing concerns such as cleanliness, added noise, the impact of chickens on neighboring property, and whether these suburban hen parties would attract natural predators.

There’s also the question of how to enforce the law, should some aspiring chicken farmer commit fowl play. Will West Fargo need a special poultry control agency, perhaps named the Chicken Hawks, to nip any rabble-rousin' Foghorn Leghorns in the bud?

As a West Fargo resident, I have to admit that I not only took the survey, but also supported our citizens’ right to bear hens.


But with all joking and bad chicken puns aside, I do see both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, who doesn’t support the idea of their own little flock of fat, happy hens, clucking contentedly and producing fresh and tasty eggs for the family breakfast table?

Who doesn’t like the idea of teaching the kids more about where their food comes from? Or the prospect of practicing a hands-on, DIY approach to raising our own food?

Whose system hasn’t flooded with oxytocin at the sight of the latest YouTube video which shows how someone’s pet chicken not only befriended the family dog but also saved Aunt Myrtle through beak-to-mouth resuscitation?

On the other hand, I am a former farm girl. As such, my memories of chicken-farming are less romantic.

The Swift Family Chickens certainly lived a happier life than the chickens in today’s huge egg-production operations.

We only had 20 or so chickens at a time, and they lived comfortably in a hay-filled coop. Every morning, after we opened their tiny chicken-sized door (which was closed at night to keep out skunks, foxes and other chicken thieves), they strutted out into the sunlight to peck and scratch for vegetable scraps and bugs. They were truly free-range before that became a reason to charge more for eggs.

But they were not pampered pets. They did not have official names, beyond any unofficial nicknames we called them — like Fatty McHoggerson or Madam Meanie.


We didn’t hold birthday parties for our chickens or teach them to cuddle on our laps . These were serious working-class chickens who were there to lay eggs. We were management — and we didn’t consort too much with the employees.


Tammy Swift portrait for Brightspot module

Hi, I'm Tammy Swift, a loooong-time columnist for The Forum. Over the years, I've written about everything from growing up on the farm and life as a single woman to marriage, divorce and the "joys" of menopause. I'm also slightly obsessed with my dog. Check out my latest columns below. Reach me at

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Every chicken-related chore seemed unpleasant. We had to feed them vegetable scraps, which were collected in a plastic ice cream pail under the sink. By the end of a hot summer day, those scraps grew pretty ripe. So much so that my squeamish sister, Bertha, sometimes gagged when she had to carry the pail to the coop.

When my city cousin, Deb, came to visit, we marveled at how she delighted in feeding the chickens. She even tried to feed a cantaloupe rind to one right out of her hand. (We thought she was crazy, as our preferred feeding method was to dump the scraps in one heap outside the coop and then run back to the house.)

Chickens also seemed awfully noisy and messy, what with all the squawking and flapping and pooping.

In fact, I was kind of afraid of them. Although Mom insisted I could just pull them right off the nest if they refused to get off, she obviously didn't know what it was like to get pecked at by Madam Meanie. I also hated seeing how they would pick on certain members of the flock, as I thought only humans enjoyed bullying that much.

So while I support citified chicken-keeping, I hope people will be responsible and knowledgeable about it.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch. Or before you know all that is involved.

Whatever you do, don’t just wing it.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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