Got Chickens?

Mary - Bluemont, Virginia
Entered on March 16, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65

Today reaffirmed my belief in chickens.

Every day, other core beliefs—like: good grammar breeds logic—get drubbed. But poultry keeps you real.

They feed you, fool you and, if you watch and listen, teach you. It took weeks for me to realize that a young hen was laying because she flew up into my mare’s hay rack to make deposits. Now, she’s got another secret spot.

Growing up Jewish in Scarsdale, N.Y., I didn’t know from chickens, even Easter chicks. Now, in a far suburb of Washington, D.C., blue claw tracks enliven my foyer, purple ones my deck. I got the idea from beautiful patterns in snow and asked the Paint and Paper Place, “What paint is safest for chickens’ feet?”

As I relax in the living room, surprisingly heavy footfalls indicate a parade even before I see the trooping of the feathers to a water bowl. And my homecoming sparks a puppy-like clamor and rush to greet me.

Chickens give voice to their own language, from an almost mournful, high-pitched arpeggio to angry clucking. If my own call fails to round up everyone, the sounds of happy eaters will lure the outlier.

The comical way they locomote, the endearing, puppylike way they greet me, the range of vociferations. Who knew?

Love and fresh eggs, what more can you want? But there’s insight too. Just watch a hen with a big morsel evade pursuers. Drop that thing, or have it pecked away, and a new scrum is on. First came chickens, then soccer. And they don’t seem to bear a grudge.

Had I grown up around hens and watched them re-fluff their feathers and get back to life after being each hapless mauling masquerading as mating, I’d have been a much wiser consumer of come-ons.

I believe gallantry lives when my rooster Al takes a treat and tosses it down for his harem. I believe it died, too, when Colonel Mustard, my adored white rooster, gave himself up when a fox threatened the hens.

When I raised Al’s hatchlings on the porch below my bedroom, I heard Daffodil both answer and give Nature’s call one 5 a.m.: a croaky “Urp!” that, with practice, morphed into cocky loquacity. Now he’s called Daffy.

And he’s gone.

While delivering firewood, Wayne Franklin marveled at my flock. I picked up Daffy, who relaxed and closed his eyes.

Wayne mentioned he needed a rooster. Three really are too much for my eight girls. I couldn’t give up Zeus, whose flaming neck and teal tail feathers advertise Al’s paternity. And I almost couldn’t give up Daffy.

Figuring out that I wasn’t going for a second cuddle, he took three humans on a merry chase. I last saw him cradled in the arms of Wayne’s sidekick as the truck left.

After almost crying, I believe he’ll have a useful life and I’ll adjust.

Friends are bringing two bearded hens they’ve been raising for me—Tallulah and Martina Van Buren. They’ll lay blue-green eggs. I believe they’ll round out my flock, once they find their place in the pecking order.