Its been a couple of weeks since I posted last about the chickens. Then again, I think this post may end up being a little less about chickens then it is about the lesson I learned but you can never really tell until I'm done spilling my guts. I'm all over like that.
The chickens are growing wildly and are currently going through their second molt. I didn’t know they had a second molt; apparently I stopped reading at that chapter. So I learned that like I have so many other things: by frantically Googling.
They’re also noticeably similar to human girls. I have broken up several fights that have included hair pulling, screaming and henpecking. All of this to be Queen of a pile of poop that only really matters in the little world of the coop, which feels a lot like high school. Anyhow, the Austalorps are proving to be the bosses of the coop, one noticeably more than the others. In fact, she’s got so much swagger and attitude that I began to think she was a rooster. But it turns out she’s just sassy. The Barred Rocks have landed somewhere in the middle, they have a nice gentle demeanor and I've found them to be very curious but sweet girls. My poor favorite Distlefina, the Polish Hen, is dead bottom of the pecking order. She ran straight into the wall last week after racing one of her sisters and spent a good 15 minutes shaking it off. Her sister ran up the ramp and into the coop, she missed the ramp and ran straight into the wall. Poor sweet girl. Dumber than a brick but pretty as hell. Also a lot like high school.
Since I've made the decision to get chickens, I've taken a very practical approach. I knew that in two years my intent was to harvest them for meat. It didn’t make me adore them any less and I am very appreciative of the work that they will do in producing eggs for my family. I have given them a good sturdy home with good food and many treats. I greet them every day with a chipper “Good morning, girls!”, and they drop everything and come running, anticipating whatever goody I may have in my hand. They are, by chicken standards, very spoiled and smothered with attention.
This morning, I popped out there with some breakfast treats and did my regular head count. Four solid black, four striped and one white Mohawk head missing. I looked behind the feed can, behind the door, in the run in case she’d somehow escaped. Nothing. Out of desperation, I peered behind the nesting boxes though I was certain since there's only about 3 inches of space back there that she wouldn’t be there.
I was wrong. There she was, wings trapped behind her, head lying on the ground in front of her. Not moving. I started talking to myself saying “oh no” over and over again. I have never, ever been good in a panic situation. My daughter choked once on a bottle cap when she was a toddler and I froze, leaving my sister to calmly grab her feet and promptly flip her over and smack her back, propelling the cap out and across the room. I implore you to never bleed, stop breathing or do anything life threatening in front of me. Do us both a favor.
So there I was, sure I’d lost my first and favorite chicken. My heart was broken. I pushed past her head gently with my hand, under her breast and began to pull her towards me. I pulled gently back little by little, and pulled her out, holding her to me and not sure at all what to do now. All the other girls stood at my feet, making little sounds that I was certain where ones of concern because normally they would have been pecking at me. They seemed to know one of their own had been missing all night.
All of the sudden, the boss of the flock let out a loud yell and Distlefina’s head shot up. It was like she’d be called up to serve. She flexed her wings with a small cry, one extending more than the other, which went off into a separate direction. I put her down and she faltered but quickly righted herself before heading straight for the water and food. The rest of the girls went out to the run, with one Barred Rock staying behind to supervise her. She literally walked next to her to the water and the food, very closely to seemingly helping her stay straight.
I am very pleased to report that right now she is out dashing wildly around the run, collecting the evening snack with her sisters. I recognized after today that not only has it been so fun to watch them grow, but that I’m honored to have these little personalities in my life and I’m honored to have the chance to raise them when they will give back so much to my family. My decision to raise them for meat once they stop laying has not changed, that is one that each chicken owner makes for themselves. But the way I view my responsibility to them has shifted and the relationship between animal and human has reminded me of the larger circle in which we live (cue The Circle of Life music here!).
It also made me realize that eventually, I will find myself losing one of my animals. After all, I have two large dogs, two cats and nine chickens and intend to ranch one day. Although upsetting to think about, today made me realize that I am committed to making their time with us the best it can be and enjoying them as much as I possibly can, because I try to make every day count in my own life. They do help us to think about ourselves less and about the world in which we live much more.
I'm also a little relieved to think that I'm toughening up. I aware that I need to do this, I have no romaticized idea that when the time comes, I'll woman up. Its a learning path that Im on. I remind myself of the practical nature needed to homestead and ranch. I think I'm getting there even if I start small by only talking to myself a little and still being able to function under pressure.
One step forward towards our ideal life is better than standing still any day.