(I apologize for once again writing about chickens. There are no excuses….just chicken stories.)
Spring has arrived. Happy Spring! My first spring in 35 yrs. without a rooster and his harem clucking around, scratching for grubs and worms, running to the site of any human digging for easy pickings, and generally acting like spring chickens, regardless of their age.
After the loss of two hens and two roosters last year, Millie, our ‘rescue’ chicken, who moved in a few years ago, is the lone survivor. The last one standing. She does not like to be in the open, she has never ventured into the garden, has no interest in where the action is. In her little coop she is either on the roost in the house, or, if outside, under the house . She always wants something overhead…a roof, a floor, a Rhody bush, anything will do as long as there is no sky above her.
Before Abby the dog arrived last summer, Millie had learned it was safe to go from coop to back porch, where she hung out, under the partial roof, looking for handouts, preening, and talking to anyone who would listen. Millie is a talker, she will carry on a conversation with me for quite sometime. When I walk by her coop and call out “hello Millie”, even if she is inside, she answers.
The arrival of Abby, the murder of Studdily, her rooster coop mate (from an unknown predator), the death of the last old hen from our Old English Bantam flock (she moved in with Millie after the rooster died), was all too much. Before living with us, Millie had been the lone survivor of a flock of chickens who were slaughter. Alone again, Millie became a reluctant recluse. She is happy for our company, Mike pets her good-night every night when he closes up her house, and most winter days I would go out to feed her sunflower seeds from my hand, holding and petting her. She would tell me she appreciated the attention, after all, chickens are not designed to be loners. When the temperatures dropped into the teens, she got to live in my office. She enjoyed that!
But spring is here and she is tired of her solitary life. She lets me carry her to where I am sitting in the sun, or pulling weeds. She hangs out briefly, but soon finds cover…running under, or onto, the porch, burying herself in a big fern, or finding shelter under a rhody. She and Abby ignore one another. Abby does not make the connection between the chicken breasts in her homemade food and Millie, but one look at Millie, you can see it is hard to connect her to most anyone’s idea of a chicken!
Millie has body control ‘issues’. Occasionally she stumbles and falls over, my theory is it’s caused by the feathers sticking out from her feet, even though they are clipped back. When she runs, or tries to fly, once she gets started there is a momentum she seems unable to control…..stopping is a clumsy crash landing.
Millie is a character.
And she symbolizes the end a dream I never quite succeeded in fulfilling. Unexpected challenges with the body were never part of my childhood dream of living in the country. The first three years I had mononucleosis, which morphed into CFS/FMS. Neuromuscular and structural conditions were made worse by cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, digging in gardens, cleaning out a cow stall, hauling hay bales, etc. It all compounded to rein in my vision of how I imagined my dream would unfold. There were the demands of full time jobs, some times long hours…and two years studying for an MS in psychiatric rehabilitation. None of these ‘distractions’ were conducive to the daily requirements of a country lifestyle. (Pre-Mike, I lived here alone for ten years, pretty much ‘doing it all’ when it came to everyday tasks, chores, and projects.)
Through it all there were chickens. The squawks, soft cooing and clucking from the coop as beautiful bantams, in colors of red, brown, black and gray, talked among themselves…working out relationships, raising families, sending out alarms; rooster crows and clucks to call hens for a tasty morsel, were the background music to my life as it unfolded, with its unpredictable adjustments. Chicken coops were built, moved, rebuilt. Chickens were lost to predators, unknown causes, old age. New chickens came from in-flock baby chicks (it is true, banties make wonderful moms), some were ‘planned’ families, some not. Once while I was away, a house sitter let the chickens out and did not count them when they came back in evening. A hen had disappeared, only to reappear weeks after I returned, with nine tiny chicks. Only a banty could hide, and survive three weeks (the time it takes for eggs to hatch), in a forest that is home to raccoons, coyotes, weasels, the occasional bear, bobcat, and cougar. Occasionally, when the flock dwindled, I would bring in new chickens.
Feed them, love them, do your best to protect them, and bantams provide endless entertainment, abundant stories, the comfort of their gentle voices…and eggs! I cannot speak for the large chickens raised for meat, as well as eggs, for I’ve always had bantams. They are very alert and fly into trees and hide in bushes when they sense danger, they know how to survive in the ‘wild’.
The past five years or so, with our dwindling geriatric flock, there have been no eggs, but their company in the garden, their clucks, coos and crowings, from dawn to dusk (and the occasional night crowing!) were my assurance that one part of my country-life, childhood dream, had come true!
Now there is just Millie, the final chapter in my life with chickens.
(sadly, and since I wrote this piece, in early June while we were on a trip a large raccoon moved rocks and pulled away chicken wire to dig into Millie’s coop. We returned to no Millie, and much grief, at losing a lovely pet, and ending our life with chickens.)