I couldn’t resist.
I was in the feed store this weekend buying chicken feed, bird seed, cat food, and grit. I also threw in a bunch of sunflower seed packets in hopes of growing a wall of giant, towering flowers to greet the summer.
And just for kicks, I wandered over to cruise chicks. Yes, it appears all feed stores make a fuss over chicks and ducklings because Easter is coming. This is all new to me, since this time last year we were waiting to see if our offer on that cute little farm would be accepted. We were still Townies. I wasn’t prepared for the tidal wave of chick cute I would face every Spring.
I am a seasoned chicken farmer now, with almost 210 days under my belt (or tucked in my overalls, as it were). So when the customers by the chick display started asking each other questions, I had to step in and offer my expert advice. They were wondering what kind of chicks they were.
“Uh, those there are Buff Orpingtons.” I’d read the sign. “I have a couple.” I think I even conjured up a drawl as I spoke. “Good layers. Nice chickens. And good eatin’, too.” Which, of course, I’ve only heard-tell, never having eaten a chicken from my own collection before. In fact, I am quite certain with the tons and tons of chicken I’ve eaten in my life, it is entirely doubtful that even one was a Buff Orpington.
“No, I live on a little farm just outside of town. But I have lots of friends who keep chickens in town.” This is actually true. “Lots” may be a stretch, but I do know three or four, and that seems like a lot to me. “They’re so easy to care for. You really should get some.” Like I knew these people and what they needed.
“I’m gonna ask a stupid question.” she said tentatively. “Do you need a rooster to get eggs?”
“Not a stupid question at all. And it’s good news: you don’t need a rooster. Not unless you want chicks.”
“Oh, Honey!” she said to her husband who was heaving a sigh and rolling his eyes. “Let’s do it for Easter! The kids would be thrilled! Let’s get some Puff Orlingtons!:”
“It’s Buff Orpingtons. And you won’t regret it!”
Since when did I become a chicken hawker? (Handy pun…)
Just then, the feed store guy approached us and said, “Could I help you with some chicks?”
The couple and I looked at each other, paused, and suddenly I felt like a Big Farmer. I needed to set an example for these upstarts. Before I knew it, I’d blurted out, “I’ll take ten of the Buff Orpingtons.”
Did I say ten?
And the feed store guy didn’t question it for a second. He didn’t say, “Are you sure you want ten? Did you ask John?” Nor did he say, “Did you think about the fact that you’re leaving for Europe on vacation for two weeks and your house sitter is now going to have to change the bedding in the bathtub every day?” Nope. Didn’t say a word. He thought I sounded like I knew what I was doing. I did sound like that. But I didn’t.
They were so damn cute. And so small. Four would seem pointless. And if you’re gonna get six, you may as well get ten. Rounding up, you know.
What was I thinking?
I concealed my immediate buyers’ remorse, and accepted that it was a done deal. I heaved a 50-pound bag of chick starter in the cart, grabbed my cheeping, holey box of cute and headed for the checkout line.
At home, I was met by my sweet, patient husband, John. “What is this?” when he saw the cheeping box. “You got chicks.”
“You said we weren’t getting enough eggs.” I said simply. Our hens had slowed to a dozen or less a day, down from 18-20. We weren’t counting our chickens often, and when we did, we discovered we’d lost several. When they free-range in the afternoon, a fox comes around, and sometimes we don’t even realize he is there. We were down to 21. Two were roosters. All it really meant was we had fewer eggs to give away. No matter. In four months, production would be back up. ‘Cause now we had ten new chickens.
My college-aged kids were home for Spring Break. They’d missed the first chicken wave last August, so my oldest was thrilled when I opened the box to show her our new babies.
“Oh my gosh, Mom! There are ten of them! Oh, but they’re so cute!”
I pulled one out of the box and held it carefully for Bart, our black lab, to sniff. He was familiar with chickens, having raised the first 37. I think he surprised himself when after the first glance at the chick in my hand, he snapped his mouth around its head.
“ACK!” My daughter and I screamed, and Bart let go instantly.
I popped the chick back in the box. But it was too late. There was blood splattered on the inside of the box. And now the chicks were flipping out at the smell of it. It was a bubbling mass of yellow fluff with occasional splashes of blood adding the chaos. I grabbed a paper towel and started mopping up blood and checking each chick quickly for wounds. I finally found the victim and grabbed her out of the box. I wrapped her in a paper towel and applied pressure to the gash on her throat and the back of her neck. She was cheeping like mad as my daughter and I quickly moved the other nine chicks into a clean box.
My daughter, of course, was absolutely mortified. She’s held her first chick one second, and witnessed the mauling of another in the next. I had the victim in my hand now, keeping her warm and going about my business. We fired up the John Deere, delivered the chicken feed to the coop, the bird seed to its bin, the cat food to the porch. This trooper-of-a-chick snuggled against my stomach in a little chirping ball of fuzz. Every so often I would stop to look at her, and she would gaze back at me, calm as can be. Her neck wounds had finally stopped bleeding, and she looked contented.
Eventually she joined her sisters (hopefully – they were not sexed so undoubtedly it’s a co-ed group) in the bathtub (contrary to the official advice about where to house your new chicks). They took no particular interest in her, which was what I’d hoped, and they fell asleep in a heap.
We’ve decided to name the hearty little mauling victim “Dog Bite” until we can think of something wittier. She stands out from the others as a true heroine. It’s tough to figure out which one she is when one first approaches the bathtub, but once you find her, it’s as though you’ve had a brush with a celebrity She is calm and confident. Relaxed in the hand. A marvel, really.
This is how chicken people talk.