On Becoming a Country Girl

In front of the porch sits Jim’s truck. All four chickens sit on the front seat, cooing and clucking, all the vocabulary they have to discuss moving vehicles and this alien world. Wide-eyed, they stare at me through the window seeming confused and disoriented. They hardly seem like the same birds I gave my son six months ago.

 

Three weeks before our first trip to Europe, I stopped in the feed store and fell in love. Penned in the middle of their floor was a congregation of about twenty baby chicks, three weeks old and about the size of quail. I had wanted chickens since we moved to the country a year ago. The idea of going to the barn to gather eggs, or of chickens scratching in the weeds picking at bugs and seeds, left me feeling like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. But thus far I had hesitated to have baby chicks since our cats might not understand the bigger picture of them growing up and becoming a living part of our mini farm.

If I get them now, I reasoned, they will be six weeks old by the time we leave for Europe. My daughter and granddaughter can guard them from the cats while we are away. By the time we return from our trip, they should be nearly grown. With all pieces of the fantasy in place, I bought two Rhode Island Reds, and two black and white speckled chicks.

Since I hadn’t planned to buy chickens, the barn wasn’t ready for them. Besides, it was the beginning of April and still cold at night. As a temporary place to house them, I set up the bathtub in the guest bathroom with shredded paper, their feed, water, and a box laid on its side for a place for them to sleep. I then dangled the heat lamp from the shower to make sure they stayed toasty, an ideal home until they got bigger and looked less like feline dinner.

All went well for about a week. The chicks grew at an amazing rate. After awhile, they seemed not to mind when I would reach in and pick them up to gently stroke their shiny feathers. Like little acrobats, they would perch on my arm, fluttering to find their balance before hopping back into the tub.

After the first week, however, there was trouble. Montana, one of the Rhode Island Reds, was loosing her back feathers. Her sister, pecked at her as if she had a neurotic tick, like a chicken in serious need of therapy. The balder Montana got, the more her back looked like a target for her psychotic sibling.

Sharon at the feed store said she never heard of this happening, but suggested that I put something on the chicken’s back to protect her. She wondered if maybe Vaseline would work. I had to do something, and this idea seemed as reasonable a solution as any.

Covered with the greasy goo, I returned Montana to her chicken family. Instead of forming a protection from her sister, however, the Vaseline alerted all three of the chicks that something was seriously wrong. Disturbed, they launched an attack, their only solution for this odd, grease-covered fowl.

Without hesitation, I reached in and rescued her from her assailants. She let me put soap on her and even seemed calm when I put her under the bathroom sink faucet, warm water running off her back. When she dried, however, she was nearly as greasy. Two more baths later, she still had a film of fat on her. In just a week and a half, we were flying to Barcelona. I still needed to pack, plan, organize, but Montana’s wet body nestled into the towel on my lap anchored me to the role of caretaker for this hapless chick. How crazy was I to think I could raise baby chickens?

More to commiserate than to ask for suggestions, I finally called my son, Jim. “Maybe they’ll take them back at the feed store. I have to get ready for our trip.”

“Mom, I’ll be right over.” When he arrived, I told him, if he wanted them, they were his. Relieved, I watched him gather the chicks and joyfully packed them into their box and drive away. That was six months ago. Jim separated the chickens until Montana’s feathers grew back, built them a deluxe chicken coop and tried to raise chickens in the middle of Carmichael where he was living with his grandmother. It used to be a rural area, and Mom’s neighbor had a couple of goats and chickens. But that was then. Now, clearly defined as a residential neighborhood, chickens are illegal.

So here they are. Full-grown egg laying chickens like I had wanted from the beginning. I still am not sure how all of this is going to work out. I’m not exactly a country girl, but at least I have chickens.

Montana, the last of the original four baby chicks, died July 11, 2012. She was seven-years old.

Next week, the blog will return to its series about blended families.


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