Monday, November 7, 2011

The Great Chicken Experiment

This is the last piece for my humor writing class.  Next I'll try to summarize what she actually taught us!>

The great chicken experiment is over.

Six years ago, it seemed like a good idea.  The Son was in kindergarten, and for their science project his class had eggs in an incubator.  The theory was, the eggs would hatch, and then the baby chicks would need a home.  I volunteered.  The Husband LOOKED at me.  Then he shrugged.  Three baby chicks came home with us on Good Friday, 2006.

Shadow was a big Barred Rock hen.  Old John that used to live next door told us she’d be a good layer.  She was a bossy old bitch, but knew about laying eggs.  Sunshine and Acorn were Auricanas, Martha Stewart’s preferred breed.  They laid cute little aqua blue and green eggs.  Sunshine had, well, yellow feathers.  What can I say?  The kids were little and they made fairly obvious name choices.

Acorn was a pretty marbled brown and black hen.  She was our fragile flower.  Because of Acorn, I know there’s an avian Vet down on Aurora Avenue.  I know that the staff at the Animal ER in Lake City are friendly and caring…and don’t laugh outright in your face when you bring them a bird in severe respiratory distress.  Hey, it was almost Easter and I didn’t want the kids traumatized by a chicken who wouldn’t rise again in three days.  I now know it’s possible to spend hundreds of dollars keeping a chicken alive.  If you’re crazy.

People who actually know about animals do call me crazy.  Like, my sister-in-law who runs a stables thought I was nuts when we brought Acorn out to her while we were going on vacation.  Acorn needed steroid and antibiotic shots, and I had to teach Auntie C how to give them.  You do this, and you do this, I said.  She LOOKED at me.  Then she shrugged.  And gave the shots.

In my defense, a dear friend once told me about someone her mother knew who spent hundreds of dollars keeping an ailing hen alive.  Not only that, but once it died she paid for an autopsy and then had it cremated.  Its ashes are in an urn in her living room.  Now that’s crazy.

One night in the spring of 2009, I got a hysterical call from the Husband while I was at work.  Once I got him calmed down a little, I realized that he was telling me a neighbor’s dog had broken into the chicken coop and played Chicken Frisbee with Sunshine, Shadow and Acorn.  Shit.  They were all dead.

So that was our first real learning experience as chicken owners.  I mean, besides the fact that chicken poop STINKS.  The kids had a life and death lesson.  And I had a reality check.  No more spending big bucks keeping a chicken alive.  After talking with other chicken owners, it seemed that they all had a dirty dog story.  Getting chomped by other critters was an occupational hazard of being a chicken.

The back yard was a sadder place without the girls.  I missed the way they’d strut around, turning up where I least expected them.  When you talk to a chicken, they’ll cock their heads, as if they are the source of all common sense and you, verbose ape, are clucking nonsense.  They made me laugh.  When I raised the possibility of getting new birds, the Husband LOOKED at me.  And then he shrugged.  That Easter, there were three new baby chicks under a warmer light in our basement.

Lacey, Eight Ball and Beulah Mae were a different breed.  We didn’t give them the run of the yard, hoping to keep their presence a secret from the neighborhood dogs.  Beulah Mae was a Buff Orpington, a big yellow bird who knew her way around a nesting box.  Lacy was a fussy little Lace Winged Wyandotte, and Eight Ball was another Barred Rock.  They lived in their coop, with an eight-foot run in front of it.  We moved the coop so we could see them from the kitchen window, but they never had the same sense of family as our first three birds.  And they NEVER had the same vet bills as our first three birds.

We were happy chicken owners, and would have kept them up, but this summer the neighborhood raccoons figured out that dinner lived in our coop.  They’d break in and snatch one.  The Husband would reinforce the coop.  They’d figure out another way in.  The Husband would fix it.  And so on.  Our last girl, Eight Ball, tangled with a raccoon yesterday.  That’s a battle a chicken will always lose.  We hope she’s happy in chicken heaven with all her chicken sisters.  The Husband can’t wait to take the coop to the dump.

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