Charlotte and me in 2012
If you can believe it, July 8th will mark Charlotte the hen's 5th birthday. And she still lays eggs for us! We are planning on having a party for her in August. Any excuse to get my friend Ronna to make another fantastic cake!
Charlotte is the only one left of our original 13 hens. I sure hope she lives another five years. She is a super-sweet hen and we love her to bits.
Lots of things having been keeping me busy lately, including writing. I've been taking online courses through Gotham Writers, the latest being a memoir-writing course (I'm taking the next level starting in July.) I like having structure to prompt me to write regularly. I've had plans for many books in my head for many years and I'm not getting any younger; as my parents would say, "It's time to sh*t or get off the pot!"
Anyhoo, I thought you might enjoy the following little story I wrote about our first chickens, as part of a homework exercise involving plot.
Our First Chickens
On the kind of July day where sweat meanders down your spine and pools at the tailbone, our chicks arrived. This baker’s dozen of tiny fluffballs had just endured a six-hour truck journey from the hatchery. My husband and I picked them up at our local feed store: six black, seven yellow. I cradled the peeping box as Gordon drove us home. After years of talking about it, we finally had chickens. We envisioned omelettes and scrambles, frittatas and meringues, all made with our own organic eggs, laid by birds leading happy free-range lives, guaranteed a bucolic retirement once their laying days were over. They would breathe life into our century barn, which once house dairy cows and meat birds.
But these miniature creatures looked so fragile. Could they possibly survive to adulthood under our neophyte care?
“Slow down, slow down!” I admonished as Gordon bumped over the railway tracks. “I don’t want our babies to fall over.” The chirping intensified. “There there, my tiny darlings! You’ll be home soon.”
We deposited the youngsters in a large cardboard box in our spare bedroom, their presence an excellent excuse for warding off unwanted overnight guests. I checked on them frequently (okay, excessively!) not just because I loved watching their adorable antics, but also due to my borderline neurosis regarding their health. There are myriad ways for a chick to die. They can overheat. The can catch a chill. They can contract coccidiosis, where protozoa maraud through their tiny intestines, causing explosive and deadly diarrhea. But most horrifying of all was the dreaded pasty butt.
Gordon was taken aback. “Pasty…. what the hell?!”
“Their little behinds seal over with dried-out droppings. They can’t poop, so they explode. Okay, well, maybe not explode, but the end result is not pretty.”
As it turns out, chicks brought up without the doting ministrations of their mama risk cementing their cloacae shut with their own feces. Such blockages rapidly prove fatal; thus we needed to perform daily chick-butt inspections. If pasty butt was found, the remedy involved breaking up the offending mass with warm water and gentle fingers. However, one had to take care not to mistake the belly button for the poop-caked vent. More than one keeper has erroneously picked at a chick’s freshly-scabbed navel, only to subject the feathered tyke to a medieval death by disembowelment.
When our little cluckers inevitably outgrew a series of ever-enlarging boxes, we moved them into an elaborate coop we’d dubbed the “Chicken Palace,” a labour of love that had taken Gordon eight months to construct in his spare time. Early autumn brought our first tiny egg, which I proudly displayed in a cup on our kitchen windowsill until our new kitten whacked it to the floor, shattering the shell and its desiccated contents. Fortunately, the hens have proven more durable.