Photograph by Lisa Romerein
The Dervaes family has two goats, eight chickens, and five ducks on a tenth of an acre in Pasadena, the majority of which is covered with vegetables in pretty beds—and not the sort that look as if a chicken’s beak or goat’s hoof has ever landed in them.
The mystery deepens. After an hour sitting in the garden behind the 1917 house, I have not heard a cluck, quack, or baa, nor seen a fly, nor smelled an odor like that in any barnyard. Just where are the animals? “Behind there,” says dad Jules Dervaes, pointing to a bamboo lattice next to the table. Inches away, 15 animals have been eating, bathing, and communing, and it’s been as hushed as a library.
This harmony is the result of concentrated research on the part of the Dervaes siblings, who have made their credo, Path to Freedom, about living off their land. Not only do they grow their own food, but through their Web site, peddlerswagon.com, they offer such products as reusable utensils and power-free appliances for anyone interested in reducing dependency on the grid. Once the family decided to close the circle in their sustainable life and add animals, younger sister Jordanne consulted “Grandmother Google.” She started with Rhode Island reds, the traditional high-volume egg layers of American farms, but found them hyperactive and unsettling, not like the birds she has today: the laid-back Cochins, the gentle araucana nicknamed “Mouse,” and the splendidly speckled European heritage chickens—two Belgian d’uccles that are so tame, they’ll sit in your hands. By the time Jordanne got the ducks, she’d deduced that the popular Pekins were noisy and messy. So she chose khaki Campbells, a hybrid from England that’s quiet and doesn’t need a pond to swim in. She sells the eggs to several families with children who are allergic to chicken eggs or have a sensitivity to them.
Jules figured out that a low, solid wood fence would take away the animals’ sight lines and make them less inclined to fret. The run in which the animals live together has a strip of sun-drenched dirt for the chickens to roll in, a shaded area of soil mixed with wood chips to absorb odors from the duck droppings, and near the gate, a layer of wood shavings as a sort of welcome mat. The chickens and ducks go into a secure woodshed at night, the ducks in tubs of shavings and the chickens in specially designed roosts that the family sells online. The nighttime lockup is essential: Even in the middle of Old Pasadena are predators that would easily commit murder most fowl.
The two goats, an African pygmy named Blackberry and a Nigerian dwarf called Fairlight, could produce milk, but that would mean bringing in a male goat (always a handful) and finding homes for the resultant babies. Jordanne and her sister, Anaïs, chose instead to enjoy the two as pets. The goats are now accustomed to riding in the car to various spots in the Arroyo Seco, where the sisters take them on leashes for walks, gathering oak leaves as treats. At home the family revels in their antics. “A yawning goat,” says Jordanne, “is the funniest thing you’ll ever see.”