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  • Last modified 81 days ago (April 25, 2018)

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Another Day in the Country

Chicken watching

© Another Day in the Country

What a lovely luxury to sit in the warm morning sunshine and watch chickens.

“I think they are so interesting,” says my California grandson, the caretaker of this small flock of highly unusual birds. “You know they are closely related to dinosaurs.”

“So interesting,” was just what I’d hoped for last summer when we bought six carefully chosen chicks from a Napa Valley feed store; but I had no idea whether this young boy would catch the “chicken bug” or not, at the beginning.

Now, I can see he’s hooked.

It’s amazing what chickens can teach a kid. No. 1, the unpredictable part of Life. We thought we had six female chicklettes, and instead two of them were roosters!

No. 2, the price of aggression. Fighting meant that one rooster (his favorite chick) had to leave and become a “farm chicken.” Sadly, the small chicken brain doesn’t lend itself to peaceful co-existence. Someone is always on the bottom rung of the ladder — which reminds me that surely humans can do better).

Dagfinnr’s seen No. 3 first hand — the need for protection. We’ve a bobcat in the neighborhood and we’ve already lost our Leghorn hen, Betty, to predators, so roaming free isn’t a safe option these days.

Sitting out here on the deck, I listen to the chickens’ conversation. Gracie is thinking about laying an egg this morning. She’s been talking about it constantly. She tells the others about her desire, hops up into the nestbox, sits there for a while, and then wonders what she is missing in the pen and comes back out to check.

Rhett, our beautiful, big, Rhode Island Red rooster, chatters constantly to the hens. He raises his magnificent red head with the tall red comb on top and looks around the yard. “Who is that?” he says, looking at me sitting across the sidewalk with my laptop. “Could be danger.” And the girls look up, check me out, and go on about their business.

Maybe it’s hormonally transmitted, but the girls feel no threat from me. Rhett, on the other hand, has decided I must be subdued. I’m embarrassed by his aggression toward me, then disappointed that we are no longer friends, and then I’m angry at what I call his stupidity.

“Enough enemies in your world,” I mumble, “don’t antagonize the hand that feeds you.”

Peckerface wants out this morning. She paces the length of the fence — it’s a short walk — 6 feet.

“Remember when we had the run of the yard?” she says. “Wouldn’t it be fun to dig up more of Jana’s plants and dust ourselves in the flower bed by the front porch?”

If “wishes were fishes,” I’d let them out; but common sense tells me that’s a silly notion between Rhett’s aggressive behavior and the bobcat prowling by.

I want to see that bobcat for myself. Not that I don’t believe he’s out there; it is just that an actual sighting would be exciting, so long as he doesn’t have one of our hens in his mouth.

The next thing a child learns with pets, of course, is Lesson No. 4 — responsibility. This is the first time that this 10-year-old has had a “pet” that he has chosen. All the others — cats, dogs, geckos — predated his arrival on the planet. He’s shouldered this responsibility admirably, always watching out for them.

A few minutes ago, he went to check the nest box and made a three-egg discovery: one ivory, one brown, one blue. All three hens had given us a gift on the same day!

“It’s so gratifying,” he said beaming, as he showed me the eggs. “This one is still warm.”

I laughed right out loud. I love this kid’s wide vocabulary and his expressive nature. Gratifying, indeed.

Gratification is another thing he’s learning by raising chickens, which brings us to No. 5. Gratification takes time and patience. He’s been caring for those chicks now for nine months, that’s a long time in a fifth-grader’s world.

Rhett crows to let the bobcat know he’s on guard in this yard, strutting back and forth as the hens bob and weave, staying out of his way on another day in the country.

Last modified April 25, 2018

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