by Henry Lane Hull
In April and for the second year in a row, as I have mentioned previously, I fell for Mike’s promotional pitch at Farm and Home and bought a 50-pound bag of Start-and-Grow, which purchase entitled me to six baby chicks for free.
How could I say no?
My Good Wife was extraordinarily tolerant, and accepted them into the house, granted in the old utility room, inasmuch as the weather was too cold for them outside. She was overjoyed when they were able to move to their permanent outdoor quarters.
The chicks, all hens, are Rhode Island Reds, a breed I never had until last year. Of that crop, two died in infancy, and four have survived, producing eggs, but with somewhat unpleasant personalities. I do not know if such behavior is characteristic of the breed, but they are not, shall we say, friendly. This year all six chicks have thrived, and as I like to remind my Good Wife, we have not bought eggs in months, although we do have some slackers, which I as yet have not been able to identify.
We have a large and spacious coup where the chickens are free to roam at will. I have observed that last year’s brood will have nothing to do with this year’s arrivals. They roost separately, eat competitively as all chickens do, and have been most unwelcoming to the new flock.
Of the newbies, one chick has been particularly attentive. I readily recognize her by the pale feathering around her neck. She enjoys personal treatment, and for six months now has received her food individually. Two other intelligent pullets have taken note, and adapted their behavior accordingly, joining her for hand-feeding. As they have matured I have had to give up on letting them eat out of my hand literally, beaks do develop, and at present hold the scoop for their meals in their former crate, now elevated on sawhorses. When my arm becomes tired, I pour the remaining feed into a pan for them, and they enjoy scratching it with the excess falling to the less personable ones below.
My special pet comes to watch me feeding the antique, or should I say “vintage”?, goat, always interested to learn what other species like and do not like. For instance, the chickens get used eggshells and leftover dairy products, whereas the goat being a vegetarian, benefits from broccoli stems, carrot and parsnip tops and excess lettuce leaves, although some of the latter go to the chickens as well. The pet and her two recent dining partners find comfort in being stroked while they are eating.
A chicken’s favorite food is an egg, which ours receive only when I accidentally drop one in the coup, at which time they swarm like bees to get as big a share as possible. Chickens are insular animals; ours seem completely happy being in the coup, uncaged and free from the worry of the outside world.
One evening last week we saw a fox that had been killed by a car about a quarter of a mile down from our farm, not that the chickens knew about it, but they enjoy the sense of security that the pen affords. When we bring them grass cuttings, they delight in scratching through them searching for bugs, usually a futile task, but if it makes them happy, so be it.
Last year’s crop now produce large brown eggs, but are lacking in the more anthropomorphic characteristics of this year’s recent arrivals. My Good Wife has concocted some delicious configurations with the eggs, and as the new ones have begun laying, we expect more of the same. I am confident that she realizes that giving up a small part of the utility room for a brief period is bringing us a rich reward.