Once upon a time, a fairly typical suburban mom, with slightly left of center leanings, decided to get some chickens. She had heard that it was relatively easy to have a simple backyard flock of free ranging birds that could roam in peace and tranquility. And, better yet, she would be able to feed her family truly organic eggs. A conscientious sort, she took the health articles to heart– although it often delayed her at the grocery store when she stood in the aisle perplexed about which scientific article she was following at the time. They were often so contradictory. But no matter, her own chickens and her own eggs would surely be a straightforward extension of her passion for peace, humanity, love and health. Free bird, like the song from the early seventies came to mind.
Things went surprising well at first. The chicks were adorable and as they grew up they would run down and greet her when she pulled in the driveway. Really! And, she will never forget how on one day, when the coop door happened to swing shut, the chickens actually pecked on her kitchen door to let her know. This really surprised her, actually, and got her thinking about some deeper issues. Nobody really ever mentioned that the chickens would actually be able to think and plan. So, while it was a remarkable story to share with her friends, she naturally started pondering the greater implications of chicken welfare, which, she would add, had not previously been on her mind.
And then the day came when a hawk got one of them (it was meant to happen, she learned, with free range birds). What struck her about this particular experience was how the other chickens stayed hidden under the bushes even though it was nightfall so she had to carry them back to the coop. Who would guess that a chicken could stay frightened for that long? After this, she often found herself staring up at the sky, while becoming quite adept at learning the difference between a crow and a hawk. One day, when she was out on a walk, in fact, she noticed a hawk flying east toward her house and called her kids to let them know to check on the chickens. They found this to be annoying.
Of course, there had to be some kind of solution to the hawk problem. After a great deal of research, she found out that she would need a covered run area in the winter. When she explained to the fence builders that the run had to be rather large as these were supposed to be “free range” chickens, they had to explain to her the physics of fence supports and the cost involved. So, she compromised and had them build a chicken “exit” door that opened up into the covered woods. On most days, they would still be free, she reassured herself, just not in the dead of winter. At this point her kids started calculating the cost of the eggs that they were eating.
By now, the mom was gradually becoming very tuned in to the workings of nature and not at all immune to the realities. In fact, while she was practicing the art of meditation with some friends at summer camp, the call came in that a fox had gotten her flock. Trying to be a good example to those around her, she breathed through the next few minutes while she tried to figure out what it was she was supposed to do. Ultimately, the woman who was watching her dogs agreed to bury the chickens the fox had left behind. She was truly amazed that a professional dog sitter would agree to this impromptu job, and quite stunned when the dog sitter found a chicken that was still barely alive. Now, this was a situation that she definitely had not considered when she purchased the chicks. What do you do with a half dead chicken? She decided to call her vet. Cell service was bad at family camp so she had to stand between cabins while explaining the story. The secretary referred her on to a vet farther away that handled birds. The friendly dog sitter agreed to take the chicken there and check her in. When she inquired about the chicken later in the day, the vet happily reported she was weak but alive and on oxygen. When people heard this at camp they warned her about vet fees, another situation to consider. Luckily, she was able to reach her mom and ask her to go pick up the chicken and put her in the bathtub until she got home.
It was not, surprising, therefore, that when she accidently acquired a rooster, she was completely torn up about what to do. Though she was told that roosters could be downright dangerous, she didn’t have the heart to let it go, a certain death sentence. So she decided to use the opportunity as a test of courage and give the rooster a chance. Well, it turned out that the rooster was not scary at all, and in fact, was weakened by some chicken disease. Now, suddenly, she found herself trying to nurse a rooster back to health. This involved many things, among them, antibiotics, warm meals, and a space heater. She also learned about parasites, the correct color for chicken droppings, and the need for particular vitamins and minerals that can only be mail ordered.
To further complicate matters, the rooster stayed immunocompromised. This meant that she was cooking for him on a daily basis, all while rationalizing her behavior. And of course, the rooster displayed distinct qualities she found both endearing and heartbreaking. For instance, though he often did not have the strength to stand, as soon as something came near the coop, he would get up the best he could on very shaky legs—his big effort to be tall and intimidating to whoever was coming. She knew better, of course, how very hard this was for him. And it made her love him all the more. She also took note that the rooster seemed to have a sense of pride –as whenever she would feed him, he would only eat when she looked away.
The suburban mom now reflects on how ambitious it actually was to buy those chicks in the first place. Had she known that they would bring so much drama and confusion to her life, she might have thought more carefully about her decision. But no matter, she is in too deep to reverse course. She definitely has some healthy eggs on her counter, but they look very different to her now .