Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Several weeks ago, I wrote as the expectant godfather of chicks yet to be hatched, then under our setting hen, Esmerelda. I do not presume to posit that Esmerelda can read, but for some unknown reason the day after the paper appeared, she got off the nest, and has not returned. 

My disappointment is acute, as I had thought that the arrival of Clarence, a youthful rooster, three weeks earlier, finally would end the long doldrum of no new chicks, but from the current state of affairs, I suspect I was not correct.

Esmerelda was the only hen interested in setting, and she was committed. While we were without a rooster, she set on the eggs, as if they were fertile, causing me to surmise that once Clarence had arrived, we should be expecting. I was anxious in getting ready for the big hatching, spending the 21 days of gestation, thinking about, and preparing for, the chicks’ arrival.

My Good Wife had been totally cooperative and supportive, allotting me the old utility room as a chick nursery, should we encounter a cold snap during which Esmerelda might have had difficulty in keeping the chicks warm.

For his part, Clarence has paid no attention to Esmerelda’s leaving the nest. He likes to preen around in front of the hens, and he sometimes thinks he should be the first at the food trough. Our feisty hens give him some leeway in that regard, but they make sure to get their own servings as well. 

For her part, Gladys does not understand who this new male addition to the barnyard is. She and Clarence seem to be engaged in a Mexican standoff, each of them giving the other a wide berth. They do not mix at all, but fortunately they do not argue or engage in mutual combat. Although I thoroughly enjoy tending to chickens, since childhood I always have found geese to be the perfect fowl. Gladys at times has proved to be a challenge to that assumption, but in the current adjustment period of “welcoming” Clarence into the fold, she has not been an obstacle.

All of the chickens, including Clarence, have been meticulous in undertaking tasks such as weeding, scratching the soil, and attacking any of the invasive wisteria that dares to emerge. They particularly like to work around the bases of English boxwood, areas that I find difficult to keep under control. 

At nightfall, they dutifully return to the coop and after a sip or two of water, start roosting for the night. If I go out in the dark with some left-over lettuce, three of them will hop down to devour it, that is, if Gladys does not get to the leaves first. Fortunately, Clarence does not seem thus inclined, thereby averting any late-night confrontations.

The chickens are beginning to show their new feathering, this year’s molting period having passed into history. While it endured, we sustained a dearth of eggs, culminating last week for the first time in over a year with the purchase eggs at the grocery store. Esmerelda is paying no attention to the new eggs, all of which are being clustered from the different hens in one nest. 

Maggie, our Welsh Corgi, sits at the French door, peering through the glass at the fowl, eager to get out to play with them, but we tell her it must be a “look and do not touch” experience. I should not want for “fowl play” to devolve into foul play.  She wags her short tail, as if to explain that she understands.

Perhaps in the spring we shall be going through the process anew, watching Esmerelda setting and hoping that this time at last we shall have a few chicks.