Which is why I found it amusing to see this article from a few weeks ago entitled "The Silicon Valley elite’s latest status symbol: Chickens." The subheading read: "Their pampered birds wear diapers and have personal chefs — but lay the finest eggs tech money can buy."
Urban chickens have been rising in popularity for years, of course. It's now a "humblebrag" to say you have your little backyard flock of hens (roosters are discouraged in urban quarters for obvious reasons). I found it interesting that the high-powered tech gurus profiled in this article enjoy their birds for the same reason I enjoy ours.
Johan Land, a tech elite, enjoys "relaxing with a glass of wine in the back yard alongside his wife, kids and the family’s 13 chickens and three sheep. It’s mindless, he said, but far from banal. 'It's a fascinating thing to sit and watch the animals because instead of looking at a screen, you're looking at the life cycle,' Land said. 'It’s very different from the abstract work that I do.'"
Yep, chickens ground people. They're not abstract. Even rural folks enjoy them.
Of course, the article then illustrates where homestead chickens depart from urban chickens: Fancy living quarters.
In true Silicon Valley fashion, chicken owners approach their birds as any savvy venture capitalist might: By throwing lots of money at a promising flock (spending as much as $20,000 for high-tech coops). By charting their productivity (number and color of eggs). And by finding new ways to optimize their birds’ happiness — as well as their own.
Instead of cobbling together a plywood coop with materials from the local hardware store, the rare birds of Silicon Valley are hiring contractors to build $20,000 coops using reclaimed materials or pricey redwood that matches their human homes. Others opt for a Williams-Sonoma coop — chemical free and made from sustainable red pine — that has been called the “Range Rover of chicken cribs.” Coops are also outfitted with solar panels, automated doors and electrical lighting — as well as video cameras that allow owners to check on their beloved birds remotely.
Like any successful start-up, broods aren’t built so much as reverse engineered. Decisions about breed selection are resolved by using engineering matrices and spreadsheets that capture “YoY growth.” Some chicken owners talk about their increasingly extravagant birds like software updates, referring to them as “Gen 1,” “Gen 2,” “Gen 3” and so on. They keep the chicken brokers of the region busy finding ever more novel birds.
While the rest of the nation spends $15 on an ordinary chicken at their local feed store, Silicon Valley residents might spend more than $350 for one heritage breed, a designation for rare, nonindustrial birds with genetic lines that can be traced back generations. They are selecting for desirable personality traits (such as being affectionate and calm — the lap chickens that are gentle enough for a child to cuddle), rarity, beauty and the ability to produce highly coveted, colored eggs.
(Um, speaking as the "rest of the nation," who spends "$15 on an ordinary chicken" at the local feed store? For $15, it had better be something durned extraordinary. I know of no one -- at all -- who would drop that kind of money on a chicken. But I digress.)
The article continues: "All of it happens in cutting-edge coops, with exorbitant veterinarian bills and a steady diet of organic salmon, watermelon and steak." Some even employ personal chefs or outfit their birds with diapers so they can roam the house.
Okay, that's just silly.
And yet -- and yet, these tech gurus need to relax as much as anyone else. One so-called "chicken whisperer's" clients "are usually men in their 30s and 40s, with young families. After spending their days in front of computers, they long for a connection to nature. What they want most of all, she said, is a 'rainbow assortment' of beautiful, colored eggs in various shades of blue, olive green and speckled brown." -- due to the status symbol announcement that such eggs didn't come from Walmart. A hand-selected carton of beautiful eggs is supplanting a bottle of wine as a preferred hostess gift.
Another family notes, "Watching the chickens is one of the family’s favorite activities. They call it: 'Hillbilly television.'"
See, I get this. I get this. That's what "communing with the chickens" is all about.
My conclusion is as follows: It's hard to bury Mother Nature. The desire to connect with food sources is innate and can only be suppressed for so long before it erupts in one form or another.
We may chuckle at the waste of money -- personal chefs and "gingerbread coops" and organic salmon diets -- but in the end what these wealthy high-tech gurus are doing is exactly what I like to do: mindlessly watch the chickens cluck.
More power to them.