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Another Day in the Country

Chicken talk

© Another Day in the Country

Who could imagine that a little house full of chickens could bring so much joy?

Ever since I was a little girl on the farm outside of Ramona, I’ve loved to gather eggs. For some reason, I remember the experience more with my Grandma Ehrhardt than I did with my mother. Maybe it was because Grandma’s hens were a grouchy lot.

Grandma’s hens, which weren’t pets at all and regularly found themselves on the menu, to my childish horror, were very protective of their eggs. A peck from an angry hen hurts, so my gathering eggs with Grandma was fraught with danger, especially for a little child.

Hens were always coming and going in Grandma’s chicken house. This low slung, dusty shed, with lots of dark corners housing broody hens in covered baskets, was a mysterious place and I rarely strayed very far from the ties on Grandma’s apron.

Going out to see my “girls” is a very different experience.  It’s dusty, yes, but delightful. The hens are eager to see me and they are a talkative lot.

“What have you brought to us this time,” they want to know as they crowd around my feet.

For a batch of 20 chicks, most of them without names, they are extremely friendly, bowing to me as if I were the reigning rooster. I can pick them up and pet them, and they chortle to me with their chicken news.

There are only two hens in this flock that are white egg-layers, the Polish Topknots.

When I got back from my trip to California for the holidays, Jess warned me.

“Those Topknot girls are looking bad,” she said. “They’ve lost a lot of their feathers on their head.”

So, I was expecting the worst.

I must admit I was a little worried because every time I have Polish Topknots in a mixed breed flock of chickens, those fancy quivering headdresses are fair game for any bored chicken.

Even though there isn’t an apparent pecking order in this particular flock, these Topknot girls are obviously on the bottom rung. Since they are easy to spot in the flock — pure white against all these black and dark brown hens — they’ve earned themselves names.  I call them Trixie and Dixie.  

Trixie is the one who had so many feathers on her head that they covered her eyes. I sometimes wondered how she could see where she was going. 

It’s still the same because where she’s lost feathers to her friends is on the top of her head. She definitely resembles a monk with a tonsure — bald on top and a fringe around the edges.

Dixie is almost identical but you can see her eyes and she seems to be the smarter of the two.

Her headdress suffered, too, but neither was as bad as I had imagined.  I thought I was coming home to two bald headed chickens.

If that were the case, then I’d have to be figuring out how to accomplish a move to the other chicken house where two black Topknots have lived peacefully for several years with all their feathers intact.

Trixie is the hen who insists on staying near the heat lamp that keeps the chickens’ water from freezing in this cold weather. In the first days of winter, when all the chicks were clamoring for heat, you may recall that I found them stacked several chickens deep around the water pan.

While the others learned to go to roost, Trixie still insists on sleeping on the edge of the water bowl. Her head feathers are always wet and straggly looking like she’s fallen head first into the bowl when she actually goes to sleep. I have this urge to wash her remaining head feathers all clean and white again and fluff them up so she doesn’t look so bedraggled.

The hens started laying eggs while I was in California. I was so excited to hear the news.

Five months seems like a long time to be waiting for chickens to grow up and become productive. Meanwhile, they are going through bag after bag of mixed grain.

It was an exciting day when I went out to feed my hens and gather the eggs. I get about a dozen eggs a day so far. Some of them haven’t begun to lay yet.

The pullets are now six months old. The Black Star hens were the first to start with their dark brown eggs. Then came the Black Astrolop with creamed-coffee colored eggs, and now the Americauna’s with eggs in shades of blue and green are joining in.  The Polish Topknots are still meditating about egg laying.

During this snowy, ice-bound weather, I make my way very carefully over to the hen house every day, wondering just how long I’ll keep raising chickens.

Until then, I’ll thrill to the fun of still gathering eggs on another day in the country.

Last modified Jan. 30, 2020

 

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