Chickens. We go way back.
It started when I was six or seven and my dad took my brother and me on one of the greatest adventures of our childhood— a multi-week road trip in an unreliable pea-green VW camper van, all the way to visit his cousin’s family on Whidbey Island. They had this fantastic county fair where the main attraction involved a full-sized arena where various farm animals were freed to run around in sheer panic. Kids then lined-up by age and were time-released into the arena to chase the panicked farm animals. The objective?: You catch it, you keep it. Unfortunately, the littlest kids got first dibs at the biggest animals… the lambs and the goats and the bunnies. My brother didn’t like to get his hands dirty, so by the time I joined him, all that remained was poultry.
I grabbed a little black Bantam with a showy headdress, a gentle duck, and a handsome, intimidating red rooster later anointed Chanticleer. We camped all the way back to California with our poultry barnyard and a tiny white feral kitten I coaxed out of the rafters of the barn.
From that trip forward, I spent many a day taking care of chickens. My favorite memory was when my brother and I thought it would be fun to throw some of the eggs against a tree. Geoff veered from the tree and threw his next egg against the chicken wire, only to have it sort of bounce back at him and splatter his face and chest. As luck would have it, that one was rotten.
So when Granddad brought us three chickens and a little coop to start our own flock, I had some experience to fall back on. On our first weekday morning of chicken ownership, I found myself dressed for work, summoning my previous confidence in poultry seizure and grabbing Death Destroyer and depositing her back in her quarters.
By the way, our new flock consists of a beautiful Buff Orpington named Chicken Nugget, a black and white speckled hen named Chicken Sando, and a black Orpington whose feathers shine like an oily rainbow. Nate aptly coined her Death Destroyer.
My mornings now consist of drinking my tea, making breakfast and lunches, and letting the chickens out like a flock of puppies. They are impatient and clumsy and endearingly friendly. Jacob has been taming them every morning while Nate mostly watches.
Yesterday evening, Jake sounded the alarm bells— something is wrong with Nugget. She won’t leave her nest and when he puts her on the ground, she falls down. She couldn’t walk, her tail was down and she was hobbling right back into the nesting box. I went to sleep deeply anxious about poor little Chicken Nugget. She’s our sweetest, gentlest hen.
When I woke-up this morning she didn’t clamor out of the coop. At 6:30am I’m googling what to do about an egg bound hen and it involves soaking her in our bathtub. I wait until the Chicken Whisperer wakes-up and Jacob and I get little Nugget upstairs into a warm tub. I don’t have Epsom salts. I sure hope this works as despite my years of chicken husbandry, I’m not really ready for the internet recommendation involving KY Jelly…
Nugget stays pretty calm. She only jumps out of the tub twice— a blur of wet chicken flapping. The warm water is supposed to relax her, but I’m concerned that being surrounded by plastic dragons and a seven-year-old with quick, unpredictable movements is just tensing her up even more… after about twenty minutes we get her back outside, perk her up with her favorite chicken crack cocaine, meal worms, and she hobbles back into the coop. I head to work, but am plagued by a dull undercurrent of imminent chicken danger all day.
I arrive home this evening and Jacob declares her better. He brings up two eggs and says Chicken Nugget ran down the hill to be with her girlfriends. I check and it’s true. What a relief! I’m sure she’d agree. We’ve gotta keep a close eye on her, but I think we’re all sleeping better tonight…
Meanwhile when I asked the boys if they wanted hot lunch at school today they were adamant. Some sick, ironic twist of fate— today was chicken nugget and mashed potato day.