Corinne Tippett never cared one way or the other about chickens. She harbored no childhood dreams of becoming a farmer, an egg seller or a butcher. But one day in 2004, without much planning, the Northern New Mexico resident found herself with a roost full of more than 100 birds—chicken, ducks, geese, quail, pheasants and a myriad of other tiny, feathered hatchlings.
Her plan was simple, or so she thought: Sell the birds’ blown (hollowed) eggs and feathers as craft supplies. Do it sustainably. Connect to the land and her food. Teach her two young girls about the facts of life.
Four years later, her business was growing. Martha Stewart Living had become a regular customer, ordering eggs and then writing about the business, The Feathered Egg. But then her husband’s custom-home-building business, the family’s primary source of income, was hit hard by the recession. When the dust settled, they found themselves bankrupt, foreclosing on their house and returning from the brink of divorce.
Just a Couple of Chickens is a story about Tippett’s adventures in birds, business and life. She was so eager to get it in print this year, while the country is still in the throes of the recession, she decided to publish it herself. The Alibi spoke with her last week about writing, butchering and the true nature of chickens.
What motivated you to write this book?
I started writing about the birds mainly because it was just so freaking’ funny. And it was about the time the [custom home] business started to fail that I realized I had my real book right in front of me. I realized: I’m not the only person going through this. And: I’m so very angry to be going through this after I’ve worked so hard for everything that has collapsed, and I have so much to say about the things I’ve discovered.
I am a normal, real person. I’m 43, I have two small children, I have a college education, I’m married, I did the whole stay-at-home mom thing because that was best for my kids. And now—now I’m bankrupt and foreclosed and looking for a job at basically minimum wage and going to the welfare office to get whatever I can qualify for, which wasn’t very much. And I need to shout this from the rooftops. I need to write this.
How did your relationship to the birds evolve? Did you come to resent them, to love them?
I was constantly at war with what I wanted to do, what I felt was right and what I felt. I believe in personal farming, treating the animals well and eating them myself. I think it’s really important to bring the food industry back into the family and not export it to some corporation outside the city limits where anything can happen without our permission.
“I believe in personal farming, treating the animals well and eating them myself. I think it’s really important to bring the food industry back into the family and not export it to some corporation outside the city limits where anything can happen without our permission.”
So I’m going into this, and I’m supposed to be a businesswoman, I’m supposed to be a farmer. But actually, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.
You learned to butcher your birds. What was that experience like?
It was the right thing to do, first of all, from the philosophy that I was trying to be a part of—which is I am a meat eater, I do eat meat, I’m not a vegetarian, I need to participate in this thing.
And I found that chickens truly are like dinosaurs—they’re little, teeny, feathered dinosaurs. They are raging assholes to themselves, to each other and to me. They are the coldest, most brutal creatures on the planet. They’re cruel, they’re cold, they’re evil. So chickens, it wasn’t so hard. Because chickens only expect you to treat them the way that they treat you.
But ducks and geese and quail and the pheasants and the turkeys, I fell in love with them all. And they hated my guts. So it was like this unrequited love. And then I’m supposed to kill them and eat them. I couldn’t bring myself to.
What was most difficult?
Writing the book was painful because there’s parts of the story that are very painful. But writing and having something to say and seeing it take shape, that I really enjoyed, too. And then I have had to grow as a person. I’m finally doing the kinds of things that I knew, or hoped, I could do. And just walking this path is so very, very different, because now I’m proud of myself. And I wasn’t proud of myself before.