Friday, December 30, 2011

Bird Brain?

OK... penguins aren't your average birds.  Regardless, my chickens are not this smart!  I wonder whether comparing them might cause an irreversible inferiority complex.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Interlude

We interrupt our scheduled programming to bring you this:

Happy Holidays to everyone!

In case anyone worried we might be letting too loose, I want to reassure everyone that we are still running a tight ship.  Plenty of time has been carved out for board games, the children are watching as many movies as possible, we are entertaining and being entertained, the chickens are getting along well and we have added to our flock, only this time in the form of African Gray Parrots residing in a cage the size of which would comfortably accommodate two of my children (giving me ideas for time outs) and stationed in our kitchen.  Thankfully, this mission expires in about ten days.


In the meantime, our new houseguests are waking us promptly at daybreak with greetings that range from alarm clock sounds and verbal “Good morning!  What’s going on?  Talk to me”, to whistling of various tunes and  familiar tones of bodily functions.  How can one ever feel lonely?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part VI

One fine afternoon, with scorching temperatures yielding a menagerie of crisp-dried earthworms displayed across the pavement for all to view on their walks around the neighborhood, we heard Teri and Fluffy-foot sounding the Emergency Alert System, and saw them throwing themselves against the wire enclosure of the coop and flapping their wings as hard as they could to gain maximum altitude.  The children and I stampeded our way down flights of stairs, wound around the perimeter of the house and nearly slid over the decomposed granite paths until we reached the coop to find our girls suffering near cardiac arrest over the presence of an uninvited guest, a fluffy white dog. 

I promptly picked up  what resembled five bags of Costco-sized cotton balls, scolded it and huffed and puffed back up to street level while trying to untangle the tags imbedded in its fleece.  The heat and the hormones had gotten the better of me and I was in a rage.  I had had enough of various neighbors leaving their dogs to roam off of a leash, and though this particular pooch had made it to the garden, I had suffered worse from another who had busted through my front door and made her way through the entire house while her owner giggled as if it were a behavior to be appreciated.  I mused about taking my children to her house in their muddy shoes and having them rush in to jump on her sofas while I, too, laughed and talked about the weather, and though it gave me great pleasure to think of it, I never managed to bring my dream to fruition.  She moved.

When I finally uncovered the tags, I realized this dog’s name was Tilly*.  Well, we looked up and down the street to no avail, when suddenly, we heard a voice calling “Tilly, oh Tilly…Tilly, where are you?  Tilly”, and I came face to face with a woman who exclaimed in her thick accent “Oh Tilly!  Tilly!”.  There was no thank you for finding the dog, there was no apology, and so I saw fit to inquire and inform her.  I asked why the dog was running loose and let her know in no uncertain terms that I was ready to call the SPCA.  I notified her of her irresponsibility and expressed my disapproval of owners who facilitate their dog’s breaking and entering into my yard, and of course, traumatizing my chickens!  Throughout all this, the woman only repeated “Tilly… Tilly”, which fueled the embers of my growing malcontent into a roaring blaze.  “Do you speak English?  I do not want to see your dog here again ! Keep it on a leash or you won’t find it next time”!

My presumption is that I must have sounded and looked like an overgrown child throwing a grand mal tantrum.  As I turned on my heel and went back in the front door, I was certain my anger had surpassed even the temperature outside.  The children reluctantly followed.  There was a stillness and a silence like no other and I cooled off immediately, only to find them staring at me dumbfounded.  My  son said cautiously, “Mom, you were really mad.  You were really mad at that lady, and I think she knows”. 

The evening welcomed a cool breeze.  We sat out front, my youngest and I, and she scootered as I tended to my potted plants.  I heard the jingling of dog-tags and the squealing of happy children topped off by my daughter’s exclamation of joy, “There’s my friend!  Mommy!  That’s my friend from school!  We’re in the same class”!  I removed my gardening gloves and stepped toward the curb to find two lovely children, their mother and their dog approaching.  We began a conversation after a round of introductions, though one party needed none.  Attached to a leash and smothered by the surrounding laughter, I could make out quite clearly that she was the one and only, Tilly.

*  The dog's name has been changed in order to preserve her privacy and prevent me from being served papers by an animal defamation expert.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part V

Oh cry me the hydrosphere! 

News of the unexpected annihilation of the majority of our flock were met with anger, distress and an abundance of tears.  We promised replacements, but that “wouldn’t be the same”.  The household was veiled in a dense sorrow, and we all swore we could not possibly eat chicken until Christmas, at least.  The memories were pungent, as was our guilt.

By the end of the week, the children had each picked out a new chick, this time sexed only.  Soon, they had forgotten all about the plight of Rocky, Drumstick, Bicycle and Toula, and had become obsessed with our new clutch, once again residing in our dining room.  The school year was just beginning and there was much to look forward to.


Only, there was one peculiar behavior I was unable to explain.  My son had taken to visiting the garage frequently.  Now, this was not unusual in and of itself.  What was unusual was the fact that he would enter and exit with nothing in his hands.  I was accustomed to seeing the odd baker’s dozen of screwdrivers making their way in and out of his nimble hands, usually as a means to some end I preferred not to ponder, but all of those seemingly aimless tours made me sick with worry.  Finally, I asked him what he had been up to.  “Oh, I’m just checking on Rocky and the boys” he answered nonchalantly, his response both entertaining and irksome.  Otherwise, he seemed to be functioning normally.

In the meantime, I had managed to demolish my hand while trying to simultaneously carry a load of fresh tomatoes, some berries and the watering hose up the terraced vegetable garden.

The chicks grew and joined the hens in the coop.  My pain grew also, and I was unprepared for the road that lay ahead.  My frustration was building.  Between running three children around from one activity to the next, making sure nobody was slacking off, the daily dinners and cleanup, volunteering and tending to the garden and the coop…and all with one hand, I was a ticking time bomb, and somebody was going to get the shrapnel in the face!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part IV

I followed reluctantly, finding solace in the fact that it would not be by my hand that Rocky would find the peace for which he had never searched.  I watched our half dozen chicks, astonished by their beauty, their once black plumes now iridescent blues and greens with an unexpected putty and dove-white hidden beneath their wings.  Never had I imagined I would find chickens remotely attractive, but I suppose the little rascals had grown on me!

In the meantime, my husband dug the ceremonial ditch and muttered something about how their blood would surely make for a good harvest.  For a moment I wondered whether he might give up Sundays in church for something terrestrially pagan, but I realized he was only excited by the thought that he would be slaughtering a rooster and simultaneously making his own blood meal, sort of like killing two birds with one stone.

The time came for Rocky’s last hoorah.  I handed him over to my husband who took him in his arms with a tenderness I did not expect.  With a hint of hesitation, he carried him to the ceremonial hole.  I could discern my husband’s voice, faint from such a distance, and within a few minutes he met me on the steps just beside the coop.  The machismo had been drained from him.  Taking a life, as it turned out, was no fun at all.

Within fractions of a second, we heard another cry.  As we had suspected, it seemed Drumstick was a rooster as well.  He challenged big daddy by spreading his wings and calling loudly.  My husband asked if I would like to join him for this one, but I politely declined.

Drumstick went as quickly and quietly as Rocky, which provided some consolation, as we believed that at least they had not suffered.  There was relief in knowing the deed had been done and that we could now go on with our day.  My husband walked over to the garden sink to clean the knives, his gaze removed as the water ran over the blade and swept the blood away in streaks. 

Cruel they were, the inhabitants of our coop.  Another dark knight flapped and yapped and challenged the executioner.  The sheer shock sucked the air right out of us.  Deflated, we got a hold of yet another cockerel and up to the dripping hole he went.  It was bye-bye-Bicycle (really, that was his name).  This time I watched.  Interestingly, he never called out or fought back.  A mere flap of the wings, strangely honorable, was all I saw.

Well, now we’d done it!  It was finally over, and all that was left was the rest of it.  The propane burner came out, the folding table was draped in plastic bags and newspapers, and we were blanching our boys and plucking their feathers without fully registering the events that had preceded.  My husband and I mused about the Coq au Vin we would be eating for Christmas, but grappled over how to confess to the children that we had lost one extra chicken, though we could offer to get them another to ease the pain.  We were feeling confident that we would figure it all out.

Only, the joke was on us, because out of nowhere there came yet another cockle.  I looked at my husband, he looked at me, and at once I stated with complete certainty that someone in our neighborhood was hiding a rooster.  The sound had come from over the hill, and I was absolutely positive that some other sorry soul had brought home Kindergarten hatchlings.  Those poor people would now have to find a home for their rooster or process him themselves, I thought.

My husband continued to stare in disbelief.  He looked at me firmly and asked whether I was joking.  Of course nobody else had a rooster, and of course there was another in our very coop, he said.  I was wondering whether he was the crazy one, so I set of to disprove his hypothesis, immediately.  I ran down to the coop as fast as I could.  I heard nothing, save my heart pounding and the words running through my head “it’s not our rooster”!  I approached and confronted Fluffy-Foot, Teri(yaki) and Toula.  They looked at me as if I had escaped from the sanatorium and Toula, the nerve she had, she dared to flap her wings at me and cry "cock-a-doodle-doo"!

Et tu Tula?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part III

That’s what we heard at the break of dawn one morning.  We had all anticipated such a day, but we were not prepared to face the question of how to distinguish which of our youngsters was announcing daybreak or what to do with him.

As fate would have it, my friend had booked me a massage a few months back with a masseuse who happened to be in the process of opening up a chicken farm.  I could neither pinpoint how we had arrived at the topic of urban chickens nor how the conversation had resulted in my walking out of that room with a telephone number and e-mal address, but I was quick to put them to good use the morning of that first calling.

Since the internet, the phone books and, ultimately, even the masseuse who was suffering considerable delays in the development of the chicken farm failed me, we were left with at least one rooster who took to waking us promptly at 4:30am and activating the snooze option roughly every twenty minutes.  Until experiencing that call in all its glory, we had been under the mistaken impression that roosters took to announcing daybreak and sunset.  Our rooster was no slacker!  He was relentless in his battle to wake us, drag us out of bed and to the coop before deactivating his morning alarm function, and remind us of his presence consistently throughout the day, only to finally cease after darkness fell upon the coop and the sun disappeared beneath the horizon.

We could find no home for our precious pet, save the one farmer who offered to take him and butcher him for himself.  While I worried about the trauma Rocky would suffer on the ride to a strange place far from home, my husband brought out his handmade Japanese knives and the whetting stone and pored over countless articles and videos on how to humanely murder one’s children’s pet.

After roughly one week of laborious research, the executioner sharpened his knives and set the date.  We called a meeting to explain to our children the fate of their rooster (or roosters), and we managed to gain their absolute consent.  All parties agreed that the roosters would meet their fate one way or another, and better it be met by the hand of their father than anyone else’s.  Besides, we promised a delicious Coq au Vin for Christmas. 

August 15, 2010.  Our oldest planned to leave the house and go to a friend’s, our youngest was whisked away by her babysitters and our son pretended to be otherwise occupied (though we knew his burning curiosity would not keep him away for long).  Our hearts grew heavier with every step that lead us on our descent to the garden and closer to our end.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part II

Our hatchlings came home in the customary galvanized steel cage, complete with a feeder, water container and roosting pole.  With not a hint of a coop in the garden and with the weather still brisk, they were nestled under a warm lamp in our dining room.  The following weeks would revolve around feathers, chick dander, kicked up excrement and all else that you would hope never to make it into your dining area.  This was going to be a problem.

Fervently, I pushed for coop construction to begin.  In the weeks before I brought our feathered friends home, I had copiously researched everything from local ordinances to feeding requirements and housing options for our new pets.  A flock of books on fowl and modern homesteading neatly lined the expanse of my kitchen counters and additional intelligence gathered from various online resources piled up near the computer.  The children had been encouraged to read books on chickens from the local and school libraries and their father also delved into heaps of data, although he failed to produce a spreadsheet demonstrating the optimization of feeding schedules, supplies and coop components, ultimately leaving me disappointed.  Of course, that explains why it took two months to complete the coop!

Still, I made it through the first couple of months relatively unscathed.  Considering the hours I spent cleaning every day and the hours I spent awake at night thanks to the chafing chirping of our new friends, the layers of skin peeling off my hands from the constant use of chlorinated wipes and the deep purple semi-circles forming under my eyes, my body and mind remained more or less intact.

The children spent incalculable hours tormenting the chicks, snuggling with them, balancing them on their fingers and wrapping them up in blankets as if they were infants.  Even my husband seemed to dote on them.

Eventually, these chickens would test our resolve.