by Henry Lane Hull
In any survey of capable employees in the Northern Neck, Cheryl Conaway would rank in the top echelon. I first met her when she worked as a cashier at Eubank and Son, the venerable old hardware store that sadly has passed into history after over a century of service to the community. In addition to being highly skilled and proficient in her work, Cheryl has an extraordinary memory for detail with respect to her customers.
For many years now she has been employed at Farm and Home Supply, to which position she brought along the winning personality that had endeared her to her previous client base. Last year Cheryl alerted me to the forthcoming delivery of baby chicks, six of which would be free with the purchase of a 50-pound bag of starter feed. Having inherited my father’s bent for not looking a gift horse in the face, I was early in line to get my chicks. Talk about “chicks for free?’
Of that batch one died the first night and one later fell prey to a weasel, but the other four are thriving. This past January Cheryl advised me of the expected delivery of a new batch in three months. As always I appreciated her considerate memory, totally typical of her usual demeanor. For three months she continued to remind me that they should be arriving on April 19th.
Last year my Good Wife accepted the inconvenience of fostering mother-hen-less baby chicks, but I was a tad uncertain as to how she would react this year. The problem was compounded when I had to remember the concerns that would be expressed by the two Welsh Corgis, who, having been bred for centuries as herding dogs, are not particularly known for being pals with poultry or livestock.
When April 19th arrived, I decided to wait the day out, hoping that other customers would scarf up the free chicks, thereby relieving me of the onus of bringing them home. At 5 p.m. I went into the store, expecting to see the empty bin, but instead I beheld a large amount of unclaimed chicks. Throwing deliberation to the wind, I relented and came home with the six babies and the 50-pound bag of starter/grower feed.
This year I have arranged more commodious living quarters for them, to their benefit over their predecessors of last year, and to my Good Wife’s relief. I have handled the feeding, heating and daily box changing, thus minimizing their impact upon us. This time the mother Corgi is unconcerned by their presence, but the daughter is eager to confront them to make certain that they understand that fowl is a lesser species to canines. I think she would enjoy “fowl play,” but I assiduously keep that scenario from happening.
True godmother that she is, Cheryl faithfully asks for their welfare every time we meet. Last year I promised her the first dozen eggs, but the four surviving predecessors have not laid sufficiently for me to deliver on that pledge. As they are moving into a higher level of productivity, perhaps due to the shrimp peels I have been adding to their diet, I am hopeful to be able to present Cheryl in the near future.
Both years the chicks have been Rhode Island Reds, a breed with which I previously was unfamiliar. As adults they are beautiful birds, but unfortunately not as gentle as my old standbys, the Domineckers, as they aggressively push for food and boss the other chickens around the pen. I do not mean to imply that they “rule the roost,” literally, inasmuch as the goose and gander make sure they know the correct pecking order.
From the age of four onwards at various times in my life I have engaged in my own “fowl play,” and I continue to enjoy working with poultry as much now as I did as a child. Happily, I have a tolerant spouse, one who likes to cook with eggs.