So I went out the other night to put the dog away, which I usually do between 9 and 11 pm. Kenzie always comes up to the sliding glass door to the backyard when I open it, because we like to talk and stuff. I heard him trot for the door when I opened it, but noticed the sound was coming from a different part of the yard than his pen.

I also noticed that the door to the chicken coop was wide open. This was odd because I am usually the sole wrangler for the day, and I know I’d kept the door shut in the morning. As a matter of fact, I’d texted Jacob to ask him to get the eggs from the roost boxes. It was a cold day and I’d gone to the gym and work already – but didn’t want the eggs to freeze before I got home after dark. I surmised that when Jacob had gotten the eggs, he left the coop door open so the chickens could run around, which is very normal me to do.

There was no harm done, even though I do worry about critters getting into the coop after dark; there is still some animal that occasionally poops on the roof of the coop. So I know there is something wishing it could eat the chickens. Once I walked over to the coop with my flashlight it all became clear to me.

It turns out Kenzie was sleeping in the hay of the chicken coop. I believe that he knew they’d feel safer, he’d feel warmer, (although he has the same kind of hay and a similar wind-free zone in his pen), he’d be less lonely. But most of all, I believe he knew the chicken’s safety mattered to ME, and he loves me so he took it upon himself to protect my stuff.

Still learning. Even (maybe especially) from my dog.

Special Needs Chicken

We have a special needs chicken.  It is Steve.  I am not joking, nor am I making fun of anything related to special needs.  Many of you know me to have a wryly biting wit (meaning a “G” rated smart***), which, occasionally, turns snotty (when I’m tired or cranky or under pressure).  I’m not always proud of what I say out loud (because my words are rude, sometimes) and wish back some of my worst moments.  All that to say, this ‘special needs’ phrase I use with love.  Not sarcasm or ‘wry wit’.

Steve has a crooked beak.  We have a picture of him.  He is looking straight at the camera, and you can see his beak dives right, while his comb slopes left.  I noticed this a week or two ago, and have studied him since then.  He does a GREAT job of eating, and won’t have any problems getting nutrition into himself to make all those eggs.

But as I sit, on the bench, or on tuft of grass outside the cage, or even when I perch inside the gate on the frame of their coop, I get this rush of love for little old Steve.  He doesn’t fuss about having a crooked beak.  As a matter of fact, he is usually the first to investigate what we have in our hands, or what we throw down for them to scratch around with.  He leads the girls into their sleeping box (the farthest on the right).

This rush of love, though:

It’s not pity.  It’s not sympathy.  It’s not empathy.  I’m just so proud of him (her) when he’s doin’ his little chicken thing.  All those songs? About triumph in the face of adversity?  “Nobody’s gonna break my stride… Nobody’s gonna slow me down…”.  “We shall overcome…”.  (Many of you know of MY popular musical illiteracy, so I am sure there are a TON more songs that fit)

The other four girls accept and love Steve without reservation.  They happily follow him around the coop – pecking at apple cores, or destroying the little piles of feed (strategically placed there for my viewing pleasure), or scratching hay.  I used the pitchfork to remove the old hay and sawdust mix – threw that on the garden, and put new prairie hay down for them.  It smells fresh – and it is really fun to watch them in new bedding.  They’ll scritch – once with each claw – then hop back one step and peer intently at what they’ve uncovered.  You can just tell that this species has been doing this same move for centuries.  It works for them.

We are still thinking about letting them out of the coop and into the whole of our backyard.  My chicken magazine says they will leave our garden plants and flowers alone, and mostly pursue bugs.  Me?  I’m skeptical, but I guess all of life is full of risk.  Plus the upside is huge.  We get to sit and pretend not to follow every move they make as long as they are scritching and hopping.  THAT day is gonna be awesome.

Patience, Young Paduan

Tub of Chicks Day Three

I found out that it takes more than “immediately” to get the little chicks to trust me. (that’s probably good advice for most of you middle schooler’s out there, too – no charge)  My idea is to tame them and get them used to being right near me and actually noticing if I show up in their pen later on in their little chicken lives.

So, I got a small handful of food and put my hand into the washtub.  They just plain didn’t trust me right away.  But when I put my hand really low, like almost right on the sawdust, and left it there (still attached to my arm), they wandered over to check it out.  If you never had chickens, you may not recognize their “I’m gonna look but I don’t trust this situation” look.  They cock their head at about a 12 degree angle – that lets one eye get the full effect.  They did this to my hand, and, eventually, their hunger and curiosity won out.

Pretty soon they were standing right on my hand, stabbing gently at the flecks of feed in the grooves between my fingers.  It was a nice feeling; like attention from nature that feels benign.  As “immediately” stretched into almost five minutes, me and my little chick buddies formed a bond.  We trusted each other; they knew I was ok.  I extracted my hand after a while, and they cheeped goodbye to my hand and turned back to the food in the automatic feeder.  It was a nice moment.

This afternoon when I came home after work to check on them, they’d forgotten all about me.  The “trust account” was empty.  But I made another deposit of ‘finger food’, and will do the same tomorrow.  I’ll bet they’ll eat, then, too.

A red one is named Steve (by Ethan), a black one is named Huevo (by Cassidy), and another red one is named Albus Percival Wulfric Brian (by Jacob).  Ang and I are waiting for personality to show before we commit to a naming ceremony.