Thursday, September 22, 2016

Friends with Chickens

When I moved to suburbia in 2008, I thought it would be cute to raise some chickens. But I didn’t know that I was allowed to raise chickens, and the thought of hosting chickens in a pen in my dining room was impractical. (I did seriously consider one pet chicken in a corner of my house.) Then I started fostering children and forgot about the chickens.

However, some years later, I was hosting a foster child who loved birds. When some local farmers brought chickens to the community garden, the lively birds with their colorful feathers enchanted me and this teenager. The chicken farmers invited us to visit their home to see some newly hatched chicks. Always eager for fun activities, I said, “Yes.” But, I told Graham, “We’re not taking any chicks home with us.”

The chicks, of course, were even more delightful than the adult chickens. The owners invited us to buy some. They informed me that residents of my town could raise up to six laying hens. Then, they proceeded to overcome every single objection I came up with. I didn’t have a coop? “No problem,” they said. They chickens could live in large boxes in my house for months! I didn’t know anything about raising chickens? No problem. I could feed them leftovers and brown rice. We didn’t know if the chicks were male or female? No problem. We could bring back the males and exchange them for females once we knew their gender.

We ended up taking six chicks home with us. In the morning, Graham and I woke up eagerly to play with the chicks. We were always holding one or two. So many things I learned about chickens: chickens love each other. They become friends, stay friends and hang out together. If one chick escaped from the box, he would make a mournful chirping sound in an effort to find his friends. The chicks also became friends with us. Sometimes we would let all the chicks out of the box and let them run around the kitchen. The chicks would inevitably find their way onto our laps and the crooks of our arms and fall asleep. I learned the difference between a happy, contented peep and an alarmed tweet. Chickens experience the same emotions we do: fear, surprise, curiosity, contentment, love.

Graham went back to live with his biological family, but the chickens remain with me. My flock has grown over the years. One chick hatched in the coop when I let a hen sit on some eggs. But because she didn’t have siblings, and wasn’t safe in the coop, I took Penelope into the house. Knowing about the sociability of chickens, (in fact, it’s illegal in Connecticut to sell fewer than six chickens) I didn’t let her become lonely. I took her to the library and Home Depot in my pocket. Any time I drove on a short errand, I took her with me. When the time came (the time being the time she discovered the delicious taste of my house plants) to put this chicken in the coop with the other chickens, she resisted. She liked people, not chickens. Two times, the other chickens pulled out her tail feathers despite all my measures to introduce Penelope to the other chickens gradually. Both times, I took her back in the house to recover. The third time that I put her in the coop, she finally assimilated.
Today, I still take Penelope on trips to Home Depot or the library, although she doesn’t fit in my pocket any more. She sits on my lap in the car and looks out the window regally, surprising other drivers.

When I take her out of the coop, Penelope looks at me, snuggles up to me, follows me, talks to me and definitely loves me. She’s a friend for life.

Raising chickens opened a whole new aspect of life to me. I had always related primarily to people.  The animal kingdom, except for the birds outside my window and the occasional deer in my backyard, remained remote. Bringing chickens into my life added an unexpected dimension of friendship and delight. I’ve learned that not just chickens, but all animals respond to love and can become friends with people.

Graham and I stay in touch. When we talk, we always talk about the chickens.

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