Let me start this off by saying I like chickens.
Actually, that’s a bit bland. Let me rephrase:
I absolutely adore chickens.
I like the big ones, I like the small ones, I like the ones with fuzzy little legs. I like the way they eat insects, and the way they squabble when you throw food on the ground. I love their tiny little pea brains and how they forget about something 30 seconds after it just happened. I love their ineffectual flapping, their anxious little clucks, and I especially love the way they holler excitedly every time they lay an egg, as if it’s the first time it’s ever happened to them.
Ba-CLUCK! Ba-CLUCK! Holy crap, it’s an egg! Ba-CLUUUUUUUCK! Look, I made an egg! Look! It’s an EGG! Look, it’s an…. Oooh, what’s that over there? That looks interesting. Is it edible? Peck, peck.
Chickens: They’re the goldfish of the bird world.
I can’t wait to get some property so I can finally own some chickens.
Of course, this won’t be the first time that I owned chickens.
Oh, no. I’ve owned chickens before. In fact, I owned them for at least four hours.
Yes, that’s right. For one brief, glorious, golden evening, I was a proud chicken owner.
It was during the time I was a wrangler up at the dude ranch. One of the owners called to say that she had some chickens she needed to rehome, and would any of the wranglers be interested?
Chickens? Free chickens?
“Oh, sure., no problem. We can give your chickens a home. Just bring them up, and we’ll find a place for them…. Sure, sounds good. See you tomorrow.” I tried to seem calm, cool, collected… but my voice cracked a little with restrained excitement.
CHICKENS! I WAS GOING TO OWN CHICKENS!!!!! I would feed them, and love them, and collect their eggs…. I would train them to accept hugs and kisses and love….. I would carry them around with me under my arm….. During the long summer evenings my chicken friends and I would hang out on my porch – I’d read my book and they’d wander around, pecking at my shoelaces and flapping up to stand on the balcony rail….. keeping me company with their nervous, drawn-out clucks.
Could I train them to stand on my shoulder, like a parrot? If I worked at it long enough, could I train them to ride on my saddle with me? Chickens! Flappy, loud, feathery friends who would poop out little edible presents for me, every morning! I could hardly wait!
I spent all evening and the next morning in a flurry of activity. I cleaned out an abandoned chicken coop on the side of my house, going so far as crawl inside and scrub the wooden walls with a brillo pad. My chicken friends would NOT live in dusty filth.
I patched holes, sealed cracks, and made it completely weather-tight.
I spread a thick layer of shavings and followed it up with an even thicker layer of straw.
Hours later, I was dusty, red-faced, sweaty and exhausted, but I was also proud. Before me stood an incredibly fancy chicken coop —- nay, a chicken mansion. It looked warm, cozy, inviting. I could just picture them filing in a contented, loud little line each evening, clucking out their thanks and appreciation.
Inside, I spread a generous layer of chicken feed. Chickens don’t have very big brains, so I planned to appeal to their stomachs. In time my chicken friends would grow to love me for the wonderful person I was on the inside, but until their little chicken hearts warmed up to me, I could at least make them love me for the delicious food I provided.
The other wranglers watched me in amusement as I sweated around the chicken coop, trying to make everything just perfect.
“They’re just birds, Becky. Stupid, edible birds.”
“They’re NOT just birds. They’re chickens. They’re MY chickens.”
“She’s giving them to you, then? I thought she was giving them to the ranch.”
“They’re going to live on MY property, so they’ll be mine. I’ll be the one feeding them, so it’s me they’ll end up loving.”
“Loving?” The guys looked at each other, smirking.
“Yes, loving!” I snapped. Stupid men, trying to get in between me and my chicken friends. Pah. They thought they could come between us? Whatever. Me and my chicken friends – we had a bond much deeper than that. We were homies. We were tight.
The day seemed to linger forever, but finally, finally they arrived.
The truck came down the dusty road, and in the back of the truck I saw an oversized dog kennel strapped down.
“They’re here!” I scrambled under the fence, abandoning the wheelbarrow half-full of manure.
Hold on, Chicken friends! I’m coming!
I danced around nervously as my two coworkers unloaded the dog kennel. We butted it up against the chicken coop, but the chickens were not going to cooperate. After a couple of hours in the back of a truck they were scared, sullen, and silent. We tried to wait and let them venture forth on their own, but the owner needed her kennel back. Finally, a decision was made to expedite the process. I winced, wringing my hands nervously as the guys grabbed the back end of the kennel tipped the chickens unceremoniously into the chicken coop. Instead of the peaceful, orderly line of chickens returning to their feathery home, I watched my chicken friends pour into their sanctuary an angry, flappy, noisy mess.
Onetwo…three…fourfivesixseveneight. Eight chickens – they were all there. Poor little guys.
I crouched down by the opening, poking my head into the door and talking softly. “It’s okay, guys. It’s okay. Shhhh. Just eat your food. Look! Yummy chicken food!” I picked up a bit of the food and tossed it at their feet, causing them to squawk and jump back in fright. They eyed me suspiciously in silence. First the car ride, then the unceremonious dumping, and now this stranger was randomly throwing crap at them for no reason?
“Becky, we need to feed.” The Head Wrangler was a calm, older man with a lot of experience under his belt. “Just leave the chickens alone. They need time to adjust.”
“Shouldn’t I lock them in there? I mean, with a cat, you lock them inside until they know it’s home. Shouldn’t it be the same for chickens?”
He rolled his eyes. “They’re chickens, Becky. They’ve got food in there. They aren’t going anywhere.”
“But I haven’t showed them where the water is – I mean, it’s in the back corner… what if they can’t find it?”
“They’ll find it.”
“But what if they leave?” I started wringing my hands nervously.
“It’s almost nighttime – the sun’s nearly down. They aren’t going anywhere. They’re not stupid – they know they either need to be inside or up in a roost by the time the sun’s down or they’ll get eaten. And once they sleep in there overnight, they’ll know it’s home.”
“They’re fine, Becky. Now load up in the truck – we need to go load the hay.”
Feeding seemed to take forever. It was past twilight and edging into the darkness of dusk when we finally finished. I hopped out of the truck before it had even rolled to a stop and trotted over to my chicken coop to peek on my new friends. I poked my head cautiously inside the hole and….
Not a chicken to be found.
“They’re gone!” Desperately, I tore around the yard, looking for them. Behind the bushes? Nope. Under the eaves? No. Waiting for me in a loving little flock up on my balcony? Negative.
I don’t know what drew my eye to the distant hillside, but even when I did look, it took a moment to see them.
There, trotting purposefully up the mountain front, in a peaceful, orderly, single-file line, were my chickens. They were so distant that they weren’t much more than tiny little spots of color on the otherwise drab mountain. They’d already made it past the horse pasture and the ranch boundary line and were marching resolutely into the Sequoia National Forest.
It was obvious they’d had enough. First the truck, then the dumping, then the tiny, dank little hole and the woman who threw things at them? Nuh-uh. They weren’t sticking around for this. That’s it – they were done. There was plenty of space out there for them to live in chicken freedom without having to worry about that sort of nonsense again.
One, two, three four…five, six, seven eight. Eight chickens. I counted them sadly.
And never saw them again.
I imagine they’re still out there, lean, rangy, half-wild and with lightning quick reflexes, like the chicken version of Lord of the Flies.
And don’t you DARE tell me otherwise.