Per­ma­cul­ture in Prac­tice

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There was ev­i­dence—blood, body parts, feath­ers, paw prints, and holes dug by bur­row­ing car­ni­vores. Re­cent sight­ings abounded, too, of ca­nine, feline, muste­line, and avian sus­pects. But, in a larger sense, the killer’s name didn’t mat­ter. The fact re­mained that I needed to re­for­tify our hen­house. Pronto. Our new, six-bird flock would be get­ting too big for that stinky box in the garage, and soon we’d have to re­lease our young fowl into the chicken yard.

Since the coop-for­ti­fi­ca­tion project, we have had only one vi­o­lent death, and that was in­ten­tional. When a so-called “chick” turned out to be a very loud rooster, we had to bless him, thank him, kill him, and make soup. Be­lieve me. Hav­ing fine-feath- ered friends, even though they taste good, isn’t for the feint of heart. The turf de­mands ded­i­ca­tion and some­times courage. Mo­ments must be con­se­crated. Land must be hal­lowed. Even feath­ers must be ripped from still-warm flesh.

Just in time for spring-chick-pur­chas­ing sea­son, the good peo­ple of the El­do­rado com­mu­nity can now pos­sess live chick­ens with­out wor­ry­ing if a neigh­bor might be a narc. Yep, Santa Fe County’s long­est civil war has come to its fi­nal rest­ing place, and nev­er­more can se­ri­ous peo­ple squawk about it.

Two score and seven years ago, real-es­tate de­vel­op­ers broke ground on a new sub­di­vi­sion. Con­ceived to flip cheap prop­erty and ded­i­cated to some some- times-am­bigu­ous com­mu­nity covenants, for decades the chicken is­sue lay dor­mant in El­do­rado’s con­scious­ness.

The big le­gal news is two-fold. First, a re­cent unan­i­mous rul­ing by the New Mex­ico Court of Appeals gives the eco­log­i­cally con­scious peo­ple of El­do­rado the right to bear chick­ens. Sec­ond, the high-level de­ci­sion puts home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tions on no­tice if they try to en­force am­bigu­ous covenants.

In the court’s opin­ion, Judge Jonathan B. Sutin cites a 1996 New Mex­ico Supreme Court case, Hill v. Com­mu­nity of Damien of Molokai. That de­ci­sion fa­vors in­di­vid­ual free­dom over re­stric­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions of un­clear com­mu­nity covenants. In other words, HOAs must write clear covenants, or let home­own­ers do as they please. El­do­rado’s covenants were widely seen as am­bigu­ous on the poul­try-as-pet ques­tion, so, specif­i­cally, El­do­radoans can now keep chick­ens. The ques­tion now be­comes, who else might ben­e­fit? I imag­ine egg lovers, gar­den­ers, and sus­tain­abil­ity en­thu­si­asts across the Land of En­chant­ment are dig­ging up their sub­di­vi­sion’s covenants as we speak.

The world will lit­tle note, nor long re­mem­ber, what we say here, but let’s not for­get that chick­ens take as much work as, if not more than, most pets. Home­grown eggs are the bomb, but at reg­u­lar points in the some­times-foul jour­ney ev­ery chicken owner has to get down and deal with real crap, seize some re­spon­si­bil­ity, or know how to del­e­gate.

To honor the hard work, lost time, spent sav­ings, and in­fringed-upon lib­er­ties of the de­fen­dants (can we say, “vic­tims,” now?) in this case, we should in­crease our de­vo­tion to the cause of back­yard chick­endom and self-suf­fi­ciency. If we do, gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple, and for the peo­ple can­not be re­placed by the whims of fright­ened, nosey neigh­bors ad­her­ing to a late-20th-cen­tury, anti-fowl mythol­ogy.

Chick­ens have been around peo­ple for a very long time, and thank­fully they are here to stay.

Nate Downey, the author of Har­vest the Rain, has been a lo­cal land­scape con­sul­tant, de­signer, and con­trac­tor since 1992. He can be reached at 505-690-7939 or via www.per­made­


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