Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


Chicken Choices

There comes a moment in the life of every chicken owner when a crossroads is reached.  In this moment you must answer a question, and so set a trajectory in which lies the future of all your poultry-related endeavors.  The question is this:

Are your chickens farm animals or pets?

I will give you our answer in the form of a quiz.

One day, a peregrine falcon discovers a new protein source in our backyard.  He does his amazing diving-thing and soon has a mouthful of feathers.  The chicken is too big for him to pick up, but he digs his talons in until a neighbor alerts my husband and he comes running.  The falcon retreats to the porch roof, the chicken runs under the playhouse and the children run wild.  The chicken (once coaxed out of hiding) is discovered to be severely wounded with several gaping, bloody gashes.

Now the quiz.  Do we…

1)  Ignore the chicken, hope for the best and go out for curry.

2)  Decide sadly that the chicken is too far gone to save, and make it into chicken curry (not in front of the children)

3)  Run the chicken into the kitchen as if we were poultry paramedics, shouting things like “get the hydrogen peroxide!” and “where’s the sewing kit?”, and then proceed to spend TWO HOURS giving the chicken TWENTY-FIVE stitches, with breaks in which we hand-feed the chicken raisins.  Complete our task by applying liquid band-aid to all the suture spots, with a grand finale of blowing on the chicken’s rear-end for five minutes in order to dry the liquid band-aid goo.

I’m still a little winded.


Helicopter Footage

I knocked on my neighbor’s back door.  A grown-up answered.

“Your garden looked great in the helicopter footage,” I said.  “You could see the lettuces.”

“Thanks” he grinned, “I’m just glad that the police dog didn’t chase the chickens.”

Now how’s that for a conversation you don’t get to have everyday? Welcome to the paradoxes of our urban/rural life.

To tell the story I have to tell the back story.  The day before the helicopters hovered a friend was visiting.  We were sitting in the yard and the kids were running wild–chasing each other, climbing trees, and throwing their weight on the tree swing.  They carried all five chickens into the playhouse and pretended that the poor beloved birds were their children.  I brought out some bread with peanut butter and cups of milk.  “Snacktime!” I called and they all rushed toward the picnic table, dappled with sunlight under the pear tree.  My friend looked at the kids, looked at the yard, looked at the chickens and said, with all sincerity, “Your kids are having a great childhood.”

What would she have said the next day?

The next day we were again out in the yard, but the younger housemate-boy was having a tough time.  I went inside to try and comfort him.  Three kids outside, one crying on the couch.  I tried sympathy, I tried humor and finally book-reading seemed to help.  The whole time, in the back of my mind, I registered that a lot of police cars had driven by the house.  This was not usually a cause for alarm as cops sometimes use our road when the main arteries are crowded.  But there were a lot of sirens, and so I asked a friend (a different friend from the day before) if she could look out the window.  I had finally gotten the little boy to calm down, and I wasn’t about to stop reading stories!

“We need to get the kids inside right now,” she said in a calm but definitive tone.  Not even knowing why, I ran for the door, pulled three protesting children off swings and out of the playhouse, and brought everyone back inside.  I still had no idea what was going on.  You can’t see the street from the backyard, and I couldn’t even look out the window because I had four screaming preschoolers to deal with.  “Let’s all go and play in the boys’ room” I announced loudly, as chipper as I could manage.  I made eye contact with my friend, but we were both mute, not wanting to upset the kids.

After we herded everyone upstairs and the kids were engrossed with the toys, I excused myself and went back downstairs to look out the window.  There were a lot of police cars, and the policemen were looking under our parked cars.  The neighbors were all out, gawking, as if a parade was about to come by.  There were news trucks, helicopters, reporters… maybe they were the parade.  My husband had just come home and I interrogated him.  There had been a police chase, I learned, and two men had stopped their SUV just in front of our neighbor’s house and got out to run.  One hid in a car and was discovered almost immediately.  One ran through the backyard two houses down and they had caught him too.  But before they caught him he hid his gun somewhere, and now the police were looking for it.

I looked out the back window just in time to see a policeman with a dog checking out our chicken coop.  I laughed outloud.  My husband looked surprised.  “Oh honey, ” I explained, “I was laughing at myself because my first thought was, ‘How embarrassing.  I didn’t clean out the coop today.'”

And then I went out to chat with some neighbors.  There wasn’t much left to gawk at, but we shared stories and watched each other (not me) be interviewed by news reporters.  It’s always funny to me how these crazy events seem to bring us closer together as neighbors.  We share the bond of our common experiences, just living our lives side-by-side and trying to give our kids great childhoods.  Just growing the lettuce that you could see from the sky.

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Chicken Honeymoon

So, I think that we are in the honeymoon stage of urban chicken farming.

On Thursday I was feeling a good bit of chicken-guilt because the poor hens had been shut in their coop for two rainy days (“It’s just so that you can understand how your factory-farmed sisters live” I told them, but they were not comforted by my solidarity pep talk).  The weather was lovely, we were home all afternoon and I decided to give ranging a try.  So I set them down on the grass and held my breath as I waited to see if they would head straight for the road.

Did I mention that chickens are really really really hard to catch?  I could just picture myself jumping fences through my neighbor’s backyards, red-faced and sputtering apologies, as I dove after black feathers.  Great.  As if we aren’t already known as the weird farming white people.

But it didn’t happen.  After an initial flutter of wings, they headed straight for a bush two feet from their coop.  Then they walked, in a group, to eat some grass two feet from the bush, and then they returned to their coop-area  to get some water.  Then back to the bush.  No drama, no chasing, no stress… just water, grass and scratching for worms.  I was so relieved that I wanted to hug them, but instead I just sat in the grass.

Things got more exciting when the kids came home.  They were thrilled to discover that the chicken-holding-ban had been lifted and spent hours stalking their new pets.  We had rules of course–no running, don’t chase them away from the center of the yard, try not to scare them, no screaming… hey stop screaming or I’ll have to put them back in the coop… but overall the kids were GREAT.  Really, they deserve the caps there.

In fact, it turns out that my oldest daughter is a chicken whisperer.  She rivals the older neighbor girls as a chicken catcher, but leaves them in the dust in regards to calming and soothing the hens.  At first I was impressed because they would let her hold them.  Then I was in awe because they would stay in her lap when she was not holding them.  But then… but then… she actually got one of them to sleep in the baby swing… sorry, I have to use caps again… to SLEEP in the BABY SWING.  While she pushed it and sang a lullaby.  A CHICKEN.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

And that my friends is why we are having a chicken honeymoon.  Yes, they poop in their waterer.  Yes, I still have to walk though the wet grass at 6:30 a.m. to feed them.  Yes, we still have to figure out how to get the two-ton structure known as their coop into a shadier spot.  Yes, all this and more, but seeing a chicken fall asleep in a baby swing pushed by a four year old grinning with joy… Let’s just say that it makes up for a lot of poop.