Another Day in the Country
Royal order of chickens
© Another Day in the Country
The Duke, with a rather royal title, reigns in the little chicken white house that Jakie Brunner built long ago and Tooltime Tim moved to our backyard so Mom could have chickens again.
The Duke is a handsome rooster, striding through the side yard in his black-checked regalia wearing too-long spurs. I’ve read up on how to remove them (clockwise twist with long-nosed pliers) but haven’t had the nerve to try. Because of the spurs, he’s very careful when he walks, placing his feet just so.
Shaking his head, he settles the feathers that stream down onto his back. He’s a Barred Rock, rose-combed rooster — solid, dependable, punctual with his crowing, ever alert, and quite kind. His only flaw is that he definitely plays favorites.
Elizabeth, the queen hen because she lays blue eggs, is not his favorite. Like Anne Boleyn of old, she’s lost favor with the crown. Elizabeth is not haughty, as her name might imply. She does have red/brown feathers. Her breed suffers a bit from inbreeding, as most royals seem to, but she’s usually busy, going about her duties, calling out triumphantly when she lays yet another egg. She seems quite relieved, after all these years, to be alive. She’s alert and independent. That’s probably why the Duke doesn’t like her.
The other two ladies in the court are Polish, although they actually come from the Netherlands. Maybe the Duke likes them best because they look like him, dressed in black/white checks. Perhaps he likes them because they are more responsive, stopping whatever they are doing to hurry across the yard like little girls whose daddy has just come back after a long absence — only he is always there! Perhaps it’s their fluffy feathered headgear that he so adores. Who knows?
No one is in the yard without him. The Topknots, let’s call them Harriate and Helloise, for the sake of this story, even though in real life I’ve never named them. I can’t tell them apart for one thing. For another, I never expected them to live this long.
The original court (flock) consisted of six Americana, six Barred Rock, and four Silver-laced Polish Topknots.
The Topknot chicks are always the smallest and most fragile. One died right off the bat, and the second a year later.
Raccoons and errant dogs ravaged the flock. These last four survived mostly because the Duke calls the alarm and runs around outside, while the three ladies stay on the rafter roost high in the top of the house — so far, unreachable. I must say that even if he wanted to escape, there’s no room for him up there. He gallantly leaves the safest spots for the ladies.
However, the Duke, out of respect or gratitude or male privilege, expects them to be supplicants while he plays court and follow as he parades about.
The queen usually has more important things to do. It infuriates the Duke. He very much dislikes being snubbed and chases her around insufferably, causing even the servant (me) to castigate him. When I put grain at the long royal table inside, he’ll stand at the lower door and deny Elizabeth entry.
She walks around outside and ignores what is going on, assured that I’ll throw her some scratch grain.
“Ha ha, who cares,” she seems to say as she nonchalantly eats alone.
Even with those long spurs, the Duke is not that much of a fighter. He’s more a bugler type, calling out the alarm if anything is amiss, calling in the cavalry (me) or, if I’m not listening, warning of insurgency — as was the case when a raccoon was in the hen house late at night or when an unclaimed pit bull took up residence, briefly.
Because of their age and predilection for going long periods of time — we’re talking months and months and months — without laying eggs, I’ve called these three hens menopausal. It’s probably slanderous. I’ve also called them in retirement which is truer to the case, but this spring they came out of retirement and have been laying eggs — two white, one robin’s egg blue — every day since the pandemic began. Amazing.
During the spring months I tried to let them out in my yard to find bugs and eat fresh grass. Now that I’ve planted flowers and veggies and everything is in bloom, I’m reluctant to allow them free reign.
They can uproot a bed of young zinnia plants with a few well-placed flicks of their royal heels, and I’m feeling protective of my kingdom. Furthermore, I always have to be present, on dog guard, when I dare to let the royals roam.
Often, when I open the big door and give them the run of the yard for a bit in the evening, I give them treats.
Partly it’s because I so enjoy seeing the Duke in action. “Chk,Chk,Chk,” he calls in a higher pitch and grabs up a bit of whatever I’ve brought to them, throwing them down to Harriate and Helloise.
Elisabeth knows better than to respond.
“Here my dears,” he calls, grabbing up another bite and offering it to them as if they were eating on fine China and as if they couldn’t just do this on their own on another day in the country.