It’s been more than 13 years since Nicole Richie became a household name on the reality series The Simple Life. A lot has changed since then: The 35-year-old is a married mother of two who plays Portia, an on-air news anchor, in the NBC sitcom Great News, which premiered on April 25 and is executive produced by Tina Fey. Despite the rather low level of domesticity Richie displayed on the FOX reality series, her current day-to-day is quite different.
“About three years ago, we decided to add to our family and bought five chickens,” says Richie, who married singer Joel Madden in 2010. While she can’t remember the actual catalyst for the purchase, she can remember the fowl arriving to her Laurel Canyon, California, home. “I was in New York at the Met Ball, and I came home and they were delivered the same day. I raised them inside my house for about six weeks, and then it was time for them to have a coop,” Richie explains. She constructed a black enclosure for them originally, but when she moved her brood to a new home in Beverly Hills, her chickens—named Tallulah, Philomena, Mama Cass, Sunny, and Daisy—also needed a new residence.
“The new house didn’t have a coop. We had to build them one, so we did a miniature version of my own house in terms of color and style,” she says. “I wanted one color palette throughout. It’s gray.” She also created what she calls “very cute little sections”—five small boxes for the chickens to lay eggs. But she soon found out her newfound pets had other ideas. “They actually just lay eggs all over the place, so that was just a romantic idea I had, I guess,” she says, laughing.
Richie’s personal farmstead also consists of an edible garden, two turtles, and approximately 200 bees in two hives to make seasonal honey for her allergies. On top of that, she will add three more chickens to her coop this month for a total of eight birds. “Martha Stewart said it best: Chickens just give, give, give, and there’s nothing bad about them. They are the easiest animals to take care of, they are so much fun for kids, and they just give me beautiful colored eggs every day.”
Her daughter, Harlow, 9, and son, Sparrow, 7, may be as enthusiastic as she is about her bucolic pets, but her husband is more indifferent. “Joel has looked at them maybe two times. When he has friends over and wants to be cool, then he’ll talk about our chickens and give his friends a tour, but otherwise, he doesn’t care about our chickens,” she says with a laugh. Richie, on the other hand, takes fowl ownership seriously. “I have a chicken lady who I text with, who I go to when I need advice—when I need to vent, when I am unsure about myself and the role I play in their lives. She is always there for me,” she says jocularly.
Richie’s role as a small-time farmer has yet to change her dietary habits, however. “I’m not a vegetarian, and, yes, I eat chicken. Everyone asks me that. I would never eat the ones I own! They have names. I have spent time with them. But yes: I still eat it. I cook them. I salt and brine them. There’s no connection. I’m able to separate it.”
It may be hard to reconcile Richie’s red-carpet appearances with images of her trekking around a chicken coop, but that’s where her old attire from The Simple Life comes in—or at least something similar. “It’s actually really disgusting in there. I get really dirty,” she admits. “I have two pairs of coop shoes that I rotate and a pair of jeans I just want to take off right away, and sometimes I just put on overalls.”