Back in April, right around the time Spring started to appear, my mother appeared-- with chicks. Chicks were not something I’d been thinking long and hard about. Most of my ideas have a tendency to appear quickly, consume my thoughts for a few days or weeks at most, and then drift away to be vaguely remembered years later with a “didn’t I once want to…?” However, if I manage to act quickly enough on these ideas, amazing things can happen: take two of my four kids for example—and Moses, our most recent puppy. A spontaneous trip to the Animal Shelter is never a good idea, according to my husband. He managed to narrowly miss owning a cat this past weekend by sending me death threats with his eyes (he’s too smart to say them out loud).
But the idea of owning chickens took root when my mother mentioned that she was getting in an order of chicks whose arrival would correlate with a planned weekend at her house with the younger girls. She’s not an idiot. She was fully aware that surrounding two little girls with 35 balls of peeping fluff would result in at least two of those balls driving south to Blacksburg. It actually resulted in five of those balls taking the trip south. One for each child and an extra for the Daddy-- to show we hadn’t forgotten him. He was overjoyed, I could tell. I choose to believe eye-rolls are used in place of excessive joy. We even named his chick “Little Bear” in memory of the name he’d voted on for Moses – obviously over-ruled, not for the least of reasons that it’s a silly name for a 100lb gangly-legged horse-puppy. It does, however, fit a brown hen.
I do need to make a note here that it was a HUGE deal for my husband to sit quietly back and accept the chickens. First of all, he is the parent who roams around the house pointing out things that should be cleaned, tasks that have been left undone, beds unmade. He *hates* animal smells and/or related shedding. He’s responsible for lecturing the kids on maintaining socially acceptable levels of hygiene and appearance (it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t prioritize it) and ensuring that things appear to run smoothly. I’m actually the one who runs things smoothly, makes sure the kids are fed and taken care of, and does the vast majority of the cleaning—even when the vast majority of the cleaning is due to *his* messes. But as most of you know, the loudest one is seldom the most effective one (unless we are referring to screaming at misbehaving children… then I am most loud AND most effective). But due to my husband's heightened (albeit, probably incorrect) perception of cleanliness and hygiene, he doesn’t like a lot of animals in or around the house. No cats, no rabbits-- the short period we had birds almost killed him-- and his esteem of the dogs would raise dramatically, if only they were hairless.
But I digress…
So chicken owners we became, and it was actually quite nice. Unfortunately, Black Bella eventually succumbed to “the desire to visit Grandma” (a euphemism for whatever dug the tunnel into the henhouse one night, in case you are trying to figure that out), but Sparkles, Mosaic, Little Bear, and Bark (named after tree bark, not dog bark) grew and thrived and were actually quite pleasant to be around and care for. And then Chicken Puberty struck.
I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I was not aware that puberty in chickens could have the same dramatic effects as it does in humans. I knew dogs hit a maturity level. Heck, I’ve been begging for that day to come ever since Moses’ pure cuteness no longer justified his infernal destructive tendencies. EACH. DAY. I beg him to grow up and stop the puppy chewing, puppy jumping, puppy trying to climb in my lap (did I mention he’s a 100 lb horse-puppy?) But no, he’s taking his good old sweet time before giving in to maturity and grown-up dog laziness. My chickens only took five months. Granted, we’d seen signs of changes coming. We’d watched and listened with awe changing rather rapidly to amusement and then to horror as Bark decided to not succumb to our “four hen/four eggs a day” plan and came out quite openly and proudly as a rooster. Luckily, none of our neighbors seem to mind (admit to minding) the fact that he feels the need to incessantly remind us that he is, in fact, THE preeminent cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood (the *only* cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood). But I wouldn’t call his crowing a problem—at least not once we ascertained it wasn’t a problem for our neighbors. So we enjoyed our sweet chicks who, while having grown significantly larger than the balls of fluff we’d acquired five months before, were friendly, chuckled pleasantly, and ate grass out of our hands gratefully.
Then it changed. One day, as I opened the outdoor pen to change the water-- a flash of wings, the sound of air pounding, and a 5lb ball was hitting me full force. Below the belt, I should add. Before I could realize what was occurring, I saw my beautiful, tame, hand-fed rooster gearing up for attack number 2—beak out, claws extended, wings beating with a force that, I had to admit, was quite impressive, even as I jumped backwards full of all the fear of roosters that was formed in my five year old self and I thought I had managed to suppress over the last 30 years.
I slammed the door, gasped with relief, and then took a few minutes to gather my thoughts. What in the world was going on with this, admittedly loud but never before violent, rooster of mine? Still wondering, I opened the indoor pen to complete my responsibilities. And there, laying in a newly formed next of wood chips and dirt, was the most beautiful brown egg I had ever seen. My chickens had come into their own. My hens were now taking responsibility for themselves and putting food on my table. [editor’s note: even now, getting three eggs a day, cost savings per month still does not equal dollars spent on chicken feed] I connected the dots. Could it be that my Bark’s aggression was the result of this wee egg? Was he- *gasp*- defending his nest? Being protective of his potential offspring? Did roosters even *DO* that?
But sure enough, time confirmed that if there was an egg in the next, one could expect to be attacked by flying Bark. No egg, and Bark remained the docile, yet loud, rooster we’d come to know and love. Gradually, we all came to accept this, putting a warning out to the kids to watch out for Bark, don’t be afraid to kick him (it’s not cruel- it’s self-defense!), and maybe, just to be safe, everyone should wear jeans in the chicken coop.
I took to talking to Bark as I did the chicken chores. Trying to rationalize with the rooster. You know, Bark. You make a lot of noise for the *one* chicken in this coop who really does nothing. I mean, egg laying is all about the hens. You just eat and crow and take the credit, when they’ve done all the work. He just looked at me before, almost languidly, puffing out his chest and letting out a crow. Yeah, I get it, I told him as he strutted around. Keep those hens in line. They, of course, bustled about straightening the nest, cleaning up a few stray crumbs, preparing for the next day’s egg laying. He, of course, waited until my back was turned before taking a flying leap at my knees. I think he thinks if he takes out my knees I will succumb completely to him and his king of the coop-dom. He’s probably right, but I did what needed to be done, ignoring his crows, before returning to my home…
where I bustled around, straightening up the house, cleaning up scattered crumbs and messes that the kids had left around, and preparing for the next day-- as my husband walked around, chest out, talking loudly about what else needed to be done, and how he was the only one in the house who kept things neat and orderly. Protector of the Nest Egg, King of the Coop, Organizer of the Chickens who, in his opinion, would otherwise run around as if they'd had their heads chopped off- and proudly taking all the credit for things done well and good.
<<<<sigh>>>>> Apparently roosters need to be able to puff out their chests, feel proud of their domain, and tell the world that they are, indeed, the preeminent cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood.
Let's let the rooster do his crowing--this little hen will just keep getting things done.