Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Having Chickens

Petunia Chicken
Marchish 2011-April 28, 2011

Requiescat in Pace, Our Little Feathered Friend

A terrible crime occurred on our back deck last week. Petunia the chicken was savagely murdered by a ruthless possum. Brent and I were busy getting ready for bed when we heard an ominous scuffle out the sliding glass door. We arrived just in time to witness the carnage but were unable to subdue the vicious killer before the damage had been done.

Brent gallantly chased away the offending possum and comforted poor Petunia as she took her final breaths. Meanwhile I cowered and trembled in the house, wringing my hands and being generally useless. Brent disposed of the corpse and cleaned up the gruesome scene as best he could as I continued to be totally inept.

"This is part of having chickens," he told me. I know that he's right and I get that whole cycle of life thing, but it still sucks to see your baby chick ravaged by an evil rodent (possums are actually marsupials, I discovered, but I consider them to be much more rat-like than kangaroo-like and so I will continue to refer to them as rodents with the acknowledgement that this is scientifically incorrect.). It suffices to say I felt pretty traumatized by the whole event.

Luckily the kids were sleeping and remained blissfully ignorant of Petunia's unfortunate demise. Brent and I contemplated telling Jack that she had simply disappeared, but then we both realized that he was old enough to handle the truth, albeit grisly. Also, I did not want to give him false hope that she would be found. That would be cruel. I tossed and turned all night long wondering how we would break the news to Jack. Surely there would be tears. I would need to offer some consoling hugs and perhaps muster up a reassuring little speech about life feeding on life and possibly some carpe diem mumbo jumbo. I was sick to my stomach in anticipation of this dreadful conversation.

When we woke up the next morning I swallowed the lump in my throat and prepared to break the awful news. Brent beat me to it with a simple recap of the events. Jack blinked his eyes a few times as the finality of Brent's words sunk into his brain and then said with more conviction than I thought possible for a four year old, "Dad, we need to GET that possum!"

The perpetrator is still on the loose, FYI. But that rodent better watch its back.

For now the garden hose is our primary line of defense, but if any more chickens meet Petunia's ghastly fate, we might have to bring out the big guns. Metaphorically speaking.

We'll come back to the chickens in a minute, but now I want to show you what a dinner party looks like at our house. On the menu: cheese pizza, peas, and salad. I LOVE seeing my kids cultivate new friendships.

Also, please tell me that thanks to my continuous and somewhat hysterical raving you have already purchased VCFE. Please! Trust me, it is worth the hefty price tag. I use this book almost every day. In fact, I will probably no longer be posting any new recipes because EVERY SINGLE THING I MAKE lately comes from this book. Seriously, buy it. Now.
(Or don't. That's cool, too. Just don't come crawling to me when you need a recipe for kick ass banana oat muffins. Yes that's right, I said kick ass muffins.)

I made a double batch and sent some over to the neighbors. We gobbled a few (okay, more than a few) and I threw the leftovers into the freezer thinking we could toast them later on in the week for breakfasts. Jack was so distressed by the freezing of these muffins that he actually ate a frozen one because he just could NOT wait for the thaw. Thankfully he lost no teeth.

And now to return to the saga of the chickens. Daisy, the survivor of the possum attack, appeared to be suffering from PTSD. She was extra jumpy and fearful and spent the entire day peeping around the yard looking for her dead sister. Anyone who thinks chickens are dumb or don't have feelings is crazy. Watching Daisy's fruitless search was heartbreaking. We had to do something.

Brent consulted with some chicken aficionados and confirmed that Daisy needed a companion bird. These flocking animals need each other and because of that whole pecking order business, hanging with the big girls, Ruby and Hazel, just wasn't going to cut it. So we decided that we needed another chicken and pronto.

The only problem was that a good companion for Daisy would have to be approximately her age and while it is easy to find baby chicks for sale, tracking down a teenage bird is a bit more challenging. But Brent was up to the task and finally located a two month old chicken for sale. In Marcola.

We loaded the kids and the pet taxi into the car and off we went. It turned out that our chicken salesman was a thirteen year old farm kid who raises and sells chickens in his spare time. If there was ever a poster child for buying a farm and homeschooling your kids, he was it. He gave us his business card as we left. A thirteen year old with a business card? I loved him.

This is Penny.

Anyone who has ever attempted to photograph chickens will understand why this is the best I could do. You really can't see her unique coloring from these shots but rest assured I will provide plenty more chicken portraits in the near future.

When we got Penny out of the car and brought her around to meet the girls, Daisy immediately heard her singsong peeps and came running to meet her new companion. They scampered off into the bamboo together to preen and to gossip about Ruby and Hazel. Again, people who think chickens don't have feelings are wrong. This experience totally reaffirmed my desire not to eat my feathered friends.

And so it would seem that the story of the new chicken is over, but there is an epilogue.

Penny appears to be quite an intelligent chicken and it seems she might be teaching the other girls some of her tricks. It didn't take her long to figure out how to get through the hole in our sliding screen door and enter the house. The other day I was washing dishes and a creepy sensation came over me, like I was being watched. I turned to see Penny standing in the middle of the kitchen staring at me with her beady little chicken eyes. Don't get me wrong, I love these birds, but it is super disturbing when they sneak up on you like that.

Anyway, on Sunday it was sunny and warm (can I get a hallelujah?) and so we invited our friends Kate and Aaron over for dinner. You remember my friend Kate? The one with the perfect hair?

They arrived for fish tacos and a few beers and I held their beautiful daughter Nora for so long that my arm felt like it would fall off (where is that muscle memory when you need it?). We had finished up dinner and were sitting around the table when the little chickens appeared at the sliding glass door. Brent went out to put them in the chicken house but as soon as he opened the door, Daisy flew inside. No biggie- I've had chickens in the kitchen before- we just needed to shoo her out. But when we attempted to do this, she panicked and jumped up onto the table. At this point we were all experiencing the strange sensation of laughing uncontrollably while simultaneously freaking the eff out, because really THERE IS A CHICKEN ON THE KITCHEN TABLE!!! I lunged for her and in the ensuing commotion she somehow landed on Kate's lap. Kate's lap which was also holding THE BABY!

Finally I was able to grasp the wayward bird and send her clucking out the door, and I suppose all is well that ends well, but I am not sure that Kate will ever want eat food off my kitchen table ever again.

"This is part of having chickens." Yes, it is.


  1. Great posting!
    As for the Ratty possum ...live traps with cat food catch raccoons....so it would probably work for effing possums. They are GROSS. Nutrias maybe worse...but NONE belong with Chickens. Especially ones with names. You HAVE seen the movie Chicken Run? Yes, they are smart.

  2. LOVE...as usual. you are my favorite (and honestly ONLY) reading that i do and i so look forward to it popping up in my inbox! but the burning question is, where are the photos of this incredible "Kate"??!! you know me and my obsession with hair-dos...or at least you should! hahahaha...i wanna see!!!! oh, and for the record, i have always thought you had great hair!!