© Another Day in the Country
It’s been a week now, and I guess it is time for me to fess up for my negligence.
Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be conversation material; but since I talk about my chickens rather often in this column, you may have an interest in their whereabouts.
Truth is, half of them are gone!
Gone is a nice way of saying, “They are dead.”
It’s a way of softening the blow of their demise. Gone sounds like they went on a trip to the Bahamas or something equivalent to Heaven, doesn’t it? It implies they are coming back.
But they aren’t. These menopausal hens of mine that I waited patiently to lay again this spring are no more.
And it’s my fault.
I have such a soft heart when it comes to chickens. We flat out spoil them with extra treats and afternoon picnics in the sun. My sister puts her vegetable scraps in a blender and chops them up so that the chickens’ salad is easy to eat. She blanches when I just throw a whole bunch of cabbage leaves or wilty celery into the chicken pen behind my house.
“You mean you aren’t going to chop that up?”
It was the treats that got us all into trouble.
These old girls love pasta. I had some left over pasta salad, so I took part of it over to the big chicken house across the street. I opened the door, went in, and spread out my offering on the floor of their house.
When Earl Gray — the rooster — saw the door ajar, he called for the girls, “Let’s go outside and find something even better than pasta salad,” he said, as he headed through the crack in the door.
I saw him going. I knew they would follow him.
It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Earl Gray is such a stickler about the hens roosting early that I knew they wouldn’t be out long. These girls hadn’t been outside in awhile and they deserved a little freedom.
I got soft hearted.
“Why not?” I said to myself, and pushed the door open wider.
Out they came, ignoring the pasta and heading for the flower beds near the chicken house, where they started scratching for bugs, chatting to each other.
This is a congenial bunch of chickens. They get along well. No one gets picked on. Earl Gray is an easy guy to live with. I stopped and watched their pleasure at being free, with pleasure of my own.
After a winter off from laying chores, the girls were now laying again with gusto. Daily I’d find half a dozen blue or white eggs in the nest. Meanwhile the relative youngsters at my house, who are just now a year old, had taken a break from egg laying. It was all working out fine!
Then I saw weeds growing up in the garden and I started to pull them.
That reminded me that I had some tomatoes to plant — you know how it goes when you are puttering around in the yard.
From the yard, I went back into the house, and then it was time for me to make supper. Jess came home from work and ate with me; she had work to do at the city office until late.
I decided to do a little work on the displays for the art show, and then it was time to go to bed with a good book.
I never thought about those chickens again until 4 o’clock the next day.
Letting them out and putting them in was not part of my routine, and my dear old hens, who just turned six years old, went to bed at their house with the door ajar.
Immediately, I went to investigate and found the chicken house empty.
There were a few black feathers on the floor, some white feathers on the lawn. I called and called, but I knew what had happened.
I finally found one dead red hen back in the weeds on the lot next door, and 24 hours later, she was gone, too.
This is how things go in nature. I wasn’t paying attention and the foxes in town had chicken dinner that night. My neglect was their celebration.
I felt bad having left my chickens in jeopardy, but the cycle of life was grateful — at least, that’s what I tell myself on another day in the country.