“Did I tell you we have chickens?” my husband, Paul, said to his brother on a recent visit home to Massachusetts.

“Really?” David said. “Why?”

Paul looked at me.

I looked at the sky. “Eggs,” I said, finally.

Why indeed did I want to add hens to my household? I pined after them for at least three years before we finally took the plunge this spring.

Eggs are as good an answer as any. Although we are nowhere near self-sufficient, I do enjoy those rare summer evenings when our supper consists almost entirely of bounty from our own garden. With eggs, I figured, we could reach that goal at least a couple of times a week in the growing season.

Since acquiring our three hens — Nala, Stella and Snow — I have come to appreciate the food security they represent in our backyard. Should catastrophe strike and supermarkets run out of food, the feathered ladies would present us with basic sustenance: an omelet a day.

I do believe in preparing for dire straits, whatever they may be. Paul and I could eat out of our pantry for a couple of weeks. We have an alternative fuel source. We know how to grow food, and now, how to keep chickens.

I guess I’d say I’m ready for minor disasters. Is there such a thing? I’d like to think this is the only kind of calamity that would dare head my way.

Yet, the humble egg is not the only reason I wanted chickens. I don’t think I realized it until we’d had them for a couple of weeks, but they make a lovely addition to the garden. As I stroll through vegetable and flower beds to feed them, I admire their quaint, yellow, tin-roofed coop.

It was built by Steve Gingras, who, with his wife, Lori, operates the company Roots, Coops & More, in Augusta. The henhouse is cleverly designed, with features such as easy access to the nest box and a detachable screen window, and it can be moved to provide the chickens with fresh grazing ground. Best of all, it is cute.

Our in-town garden has become a green oasis over the years, as we have filled it with trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers and vegetables. The amenities we provide for birds and small mammals have enabled the garden to be recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

While I enjoy the cardinals, chickadees, bees and butterflies flitting around the garden, they can’t compare to the sight of Nala, Stella and Snow scampering out of their pretty little coop to greet me.

Now my garden is complete.

The girls are useful garden accessories as well. One of their favorite foods is my least-favorite gastropod mollusk — the common slug. The chickens would be extraordinarily helpful if they were free range, but they are not, for two reasons. It’s too dangerous to let chickens run free in the city, and if they became a nuisance to our neighbors, they could be banned, according to the Augusta ordinances.

Also, chickens and gardens don’t really mix. Along with the slugs, they would be eating my squash and lettuce too.

I wouldn’t like that.

The girls do get to wander, but only under our supervision. They have a roomy pen in which to roam, and Paul has even installed a market umbrella nearby to provide shade for them on hot days.

Meanwhile, I just pick those nasty slugs off the plants and throw them into the enclosure. The girls go wild. I cackle.

Now, if I could only convince them to eat the Japanese beetles that descend upon my raspberry plants. I hurled a few those their way the other day, but all I ended up with was a swarm of flying beetles. Bleah.

Nala, Stella and Snow were especially helpful during dandelion season, because they just love dandelion greens. They also like stale bread, apples and spaghetti. Paul swears they have come to recognize the can of mealworms he treats them to regularly, because when they see him carrying it, they all fly to the top of their pen.

Hens are more fun than I thought they would be. Paul is their major caretaker, but I do the afternoon shift. During the school year, this means I must tend to them after I get home from my day job. Sometimes, I’m tired and not in the mood.

I grumble as I make my way to the coop, a bag of feed in one hand, some sort of treat in the other. The girls rush to the front of the pen to greet me. I can’t help myself. I smile.

In a few minutes, I’m sitting on the grass, petting my chickens as they eat their dinner. Snowy is loud. Nala is clever. Stella is determined. This trio is a hoot — or do I mean cluck?

The verdict is in: I don’t need a reason to have chickens. I just do.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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