Susan’s bathing suited butt went screaming down the driveway with a rooster taking flight behind her. Her speed was impressive. Honestly, I didn’t know she had it in her. My 11-year-old sinister sister-self did not really feel badly for my sister. I was more worried about the tale that she would tell at the dinner table that would more securely seal the fate of my rooster, Charlie. He was an innocent and I was his protector. No matter how much I reasoned with him and his brother they continued to chase and scare the family, guests, everyone – except for me.
They were my second attempt at hatching chickens as a kid. My first attempt ended with a neighbor’s young, myopic black lab swallowing my first-born chick whole while I was at softball practice. That episode landed me in a pile of grief, something that I had not yet experienced at the mere age of eight.
I am not sure how I talked my parents into letting me incubate eggs and hatch chickens. Perhaps it was their lack of animal knowledge base from which to draw. How hard could it be? I got a book from the library and I was relegated to the basement. For the next 21 days, I became a fixture next to my homemade incubator and 6 eggs. I day dreamed about what they would look like, what I would name them and if they would be boys or girls. Each passing day was crossed off on my calendar until I could finally hold my fuzzy little babies.
Thirty years later, I am at the beginning of the third attempt at raising chickens. I am doing it for my kids and admittedly myself. These funny little creatures fascinate me. Are they as stupid as stereotypically portrayed? Not even close. When treated right they are gentle and trusting and when I ruminate on how they have nourished the American human race, I feel that we should honor the chicken in all its strangeness. I want my kids to respect their food and know that the chicken they are eating on their plate is similar to their best friend, Charlotte, in the backyard. It brings me comfort in knowing that the eggs that we eat will be fresh and my kids will learn first hand that a their happy little hens work hard everyday to make them.
We did not incubate them only because we could not guarantee the sex. The last thing I wanted was to be forced to get rid of someone’s best friend because it would shortly be a loud obnoxious rooster. We opted to get them a few days old and so far they have brought us nothing but joy. Getting them started was our summer project. We ignored the unfurnished living room and the empty walls and focused on building chicken fort knox.
Yes, I think we over built the chicken run. This was due to a few of factors. First, I still live with the trauma of the black lab from down the street gobbling up my chick when I was eight. How could I facilitate a relationship with chickens for my kids and not do my best to keep them alive? Secondly, we have a resident fox. The previous owner of our recently acquired house told us at the closing that she left a neighborhood fox a raw egg on the driveway nightly. We see him (or her – the kids call her Bob) a few times a week. I needed to be sure that Bob would never be able to feast on our hens. Also, while building the run we had two very interesting wildlife encounters.
In early June when Ella was away at camp and we were making over her room (a post in the works), we had removed the window that was most likely replaced sometime in the 1940s to paint it. We duct taped some cardboard over the window knowing that we would be back at it again first thing in the morning. At 4 AM, I heard a crying through Liam’s monitor. It sat me straight up in bed and I realized that Liam had already completed his nightly migration and was sound asleep next to me. I knew it was an animal and I was afraid it was a squirrel. Those things are insane when trapped. Juliet was still in her bed. I woke Darren who was thankfully not at work. After rescuing Juliet, he ran up the stairs with his weapon of choice, a broom. As he went for the light switch visions of Christmas vacation came to mind when the squirrel jumps from the tree to grandpa’s toupee and all hell breaks loose. Thankfully, it was not a squirrel. It was an adolescent raccoon. In. Our. House. Crying. My heart raced and my feet raced me directly to Google search. How to trap a trapped raccoon. I mean seriously what do you search? We were going to try to chase it down the stairs and out the front door and block all exit points with our plethora of broken down moving boxes, but Google said no, don’t do that. Corral it into a box and then set it free. Darren picked up the broom and some gloves and a box and this raccoon goes all Jurassic park Velociraptor on him. I dial-up the humane society while he attempts to keep the raccoon in the room in which we also removed the door – you know, to paint the molding. There was a 24/7 person on call and we had a guy at our house in 15 minutes. It took him approximately 5 more minutes to remove the little guy who he released just down the street from my chickens. He would be sure to find his family again so this meant that there was a family of raccoons that I am sure would all love a chicken dinner and I bet they also had a village.
Then there was the black bear that made an appearance in my neighbor’s yard for a few hours. I am sure she was more interested in the berries and the trash than my chickens, but I am attempting to paint a picture of predators to justify the need for my chicken Fort Knox predator-proof chicken run born out of my childhood trauma of losing the first babies I ever nurtured in one quick gulp down the gullet of an as$%&^* black Labrador retriever. I want on record that my favorite dog on the planet who currently lays at my feet is a lab. It is just this one in particular that I will forever dislike.
If you ever need to build a predator-proof chicken run please send me an email. We sunk cement footers and dug a trench for welded wire and so much more. I over researched the project and being that Darren is fond of me, he, in turn, over-built it. I have to say that I don’t worry about them getting eaten when we have chicken sitters taking care of them while we are a way for a weekend or a week.
Last night when I was lying next to Liam and we were giving thanks for the day he inspired me to write this post. He listed the usual suspects and then it went something like this, “…and I am thankful for our house when it rains, our bikes, Hatchy, Hippie, Midnight, Racer and Charlotte. And I am thankful that Racer is fast.” Racer is the chick that Liam picked out for himself. She is the only hen that runs for the hills as fast as she can when the kids go in for hugs. Instead of being offended that she runs from him, he is proud of her for being so fast and living up to the name that he so perfectly picked. She is, for the most part, uncatchable.
As I snuggled next to my baby boy (or preschooler) and listened to his gratitude for chickens I know that I, too, am thankful for Chickens. These practically flightless birds with prehistoric qualities are curios and funny. They teach us compassion and responsibility and connect us to the earth just a little bit more. This best effort at our chicken adventure is for my kids and a nod to the chickens in my childhood past that I did my best to protect, but came up a little bit short. I will do my damnedest to make sure that our 2014 brood do not get eaten by a fox (or a black lab).
Eggs are due October 2014!