Score 1 for the chickens
Presenting…Little Chicken, Little Buddy, Emily and Lily.
Perhaps if I had grown up on a farm these chickens would be numbered instead of named and I’d be nudging Dan to sharpen the hatchet because chicken #4 hasn’t laid an egg in 3 weeks. But I grew up in a liberal, West Coast city, cuddling cats and eating spinach lasagna, and all our meat came from the freezer section of Safeway. But we are having some issues with Lily, er hen #4, and so naturally I left a post on backyardchickens.com seeking guidance.
We adopted Lily after her three sisters vanished, one by one, victims of a thuggish skunk. I see now why Lily was the lone survivor; she’s one tough gal. All the research we did on introducing a new hen to an established flock suggested Lily might get temporarily bullied by the resident three sisters. (Pecking order is not just a euphemism). However, Lily strutted in, threw her bulk around, and proceeded to pluck the locals’ plumage, exposing raw bloodied skin which forever cast Lily as that troubled girl who never gets over her rough past.
The good people on backyardchickens.com are quick to answer virtual distress calls and the whole post and reply process and creating your signature thing is not that different from interactive parenting websites like Mothering.com or babycenter where moms define themselves as “Madeline, mother of twelve uncircumcised, breastfed, unvaccinated, sling-worn, homeschooled, knitting boys, and loving every minute of it!!!!!.” It is just like that with the chicken people, with their photos of scrubbed-clean, aqua eggs on polished silver platters and their own descriptive signatures, albiet the kinky poultry flair: “Love my 2 cuckoo marans, 3 buff brahmas, and 1 bantam cochin X muttchick!”
It’s one thing that Lily, who produces lovely brown eggs, has stopped laying. It’s another that she’s been plucking and gobbling feathers from the other girls’ backsides. I often see her with a small downy feather protruding from her beak and a “Yeah? What about it?” sneer on her face.
The internet people say Lily is either bored or needs more protein. They suggest I feed her catfood or hang broccoli in her pen for “interest.” I’ve been known to slop warm, raisin-laden oatmeal to the hens or to sneak them some tamari-sprinkled popcorn because they love it so. I hand-feed them dandelions and fresh alfalfa because it makes me happy to see anyone in my care enjoying food, but really, hang some broccoli in their pen? I have two little humans with plenty of their own tedious habits to indulge.
So, we’re talking about eating Lily and no one really wants to do it. But if we’re raising chickens for eggs, we have to face the reality that at a certain point chickens start coasting down the other side of prime and we’re not up for running a retirement home for mature hens. Col, strangely, is the most vehemently opposed. “I don’t want to eat Lily,” he grimaces anxiously, confirming that we should have named her chicken #4. “I just don’t!” He says when pressed as to why not. Sweet Col. When I clipped the chickens’ wings last summer Col ran away crying. “I just want them to be free!” He said valiantly. Of course “free” in this case translates to flying down to my neighbor Frankie’s yard where a little grey poodle waits licking his chops.
Col suggests we wait until spring to see if Lily starts laying again, which is reasonable, though curious because Col is the kid who wants to hang grouse feet (from the wild grouse we ate, not so unlike chicken) over his bed. Unlike Col’s tender girlfriends whose parents can no longer read them Charlotte’s Web or The Giving Tree due to an onslaught of weepy undoing, Col doesn’t get bogged down by emotion. Keeping it simple, he relies on two adjectives to describe his state of being: “good” and “not good.” However, he’s been tinkering around, trying to figure out if being sad is profitable in any way. Yesterday we had this conversation, driving home from the pool:
Col: Mama, I feel left out.
Me: (suspicious) Why honey?
Col: I just feel left out.
Me: Left out of what?
Col: Oh, just left out.
Me: What do you feel left out from?
Col: From going home.
We were all in the car, itchy from chlorine, munching carrots and very much going home together.
But right now I’m headed outside to the home for retired hens to offer Lily some cat food and to hang some edible Christmas decorations, for interest. So far, score zero for the chicken farmers, 1 for the chickens.