Sunday, 26 March 2017

A Year of Chickens

We  have recently celebrated the one year anniversary of Charlotte's rather startling arrival in our family. It took us about a month to build her residence after finding her on the side of the road so at this time last year she was still residing in our garage...but she was residing with us and we were beginning to get an inkling about our quirky little hen.
At the start of this year Charlotte surprised us by laying and more importantly leaving her little brown eggs for us to discover and collect each morning.  That lasted a month before she abruptly returned to her old habit of eating a fresh brown egg each morning for breakfast.  She is such a tease. I still relish my morning ritual of collecting eggs though. Even in the brisk -30 temps of winter I loved the routine of bundling up and heading down to the chicken coop to gather fresh eggs. Fresh eggs, fresh start to the day, fresh memories. I grew up with chickens and had wonderful memories of days spent in the coop amidst the gentle clucking of the flock. Making new memories to build upon those old memories is freshly cherished.  And while Charlotte's egg made a brief guest appearance in this ritual, the 87%ers have remained steadfast layers throughout the seasons.  I am starting to think the Hutterites may not know what they are doing because these gals are top notch...even at 87%. It has been a fascinating year of watching chickens go from being mere seconds of ending on a chopping block to happy little backyard layers. Their recovery process has been amazing and a lesson to all.
 I remember well the first day the 87%ers arrived.  From their heads swinging past the chopping block intact and into the dog kennel strapped onto the back of my truck, they bounced along a road for 45 minutes on the way to who knows where with few feathers for warm and overgrown claws that made it impossible for them to stand on a flat surface.  Then they  had to face an outraged little brown hen who insisted that they were not chickens and demanded that I return them immediately.  When I refused and asked Charlotte to roll up her feathered sleeves and get on with teaching these chickens how to be chickens, Charlotte (bless her little chicken heart) got on with the task at hand. Claws were clipped and eventually little new feathers began to appear on these 'non-chickens'.  They watched Charlotte merrily jump out of the coop each morning for a day of foraging in the yard and then watched her hop the two feet back up onto the ledge to get into the coop for nighttime.  Eventually they made their way out of the corner of the coop and started unsteadily walking about.  They tried a scratch or two on the floor.  They grew a few more feathers.  They noticed the laying boxes and would look inside them while they still just kept dropping their eggs wherever all over the chicken coop floor. By the end of the summer they were all hopping out the chicken coop door with Charlotte in the morning to go foraging.  In the evening, one of them was able to hop back into the coop with Charlotte while the rest of them still needed a boost up to the two foot high ledge.  By the end of Fall, all the girls were hopping back into the coop on their own. A couple of them had started laying their eggs in the nesting boxes. They had feathers!  I considered this all to be rather miraculous considering these ladies were born in captivity and kept confined in a tiny cage their whole lives having never been outside or seen the outside or even had space to walk about. I celebrated their recovery.  They had come so far. Charlotte even had them hopping up to the roasting rail in the rafters of the coop.  She had taught them all she knew.  They were laying their eggs in the nesting boxes. We celebrated their chicken-ness.  As we compliment the coop on attaining their goal of chickenhood, one 87%er has reached deep down into her ancestral baggage and has taken it even further.  She is a broody chicken. This has flummoxed Charlotte who is most definitely not a broody chicken.To take it to the most basic level...Charlotte eats her young.  Miss Broody Chicken climbs into the nesting box with the other eggs that have been laid there and then she lays her egg and nests upon them all keeping them warm in the hopes of new life.  The first time I went to gather the eggs from under Miss Broody Chicken she pecked me as mothers are wont to do when they are protecting their young.  She now understands that I will be collecting the eggs every day and she lifts up a wing to help with the process.  I have found up to four eggs in Miss Broody Chicken's nest. To go from a life of bare necessities to a near miss with a chopping block to the demands of a Charlotte teaching the chicken ways and finally to eclipse the teacher and reach into the instinctual yearnings of a hen has been quite the year for this chick. She stoically broods on despite Charlotte leaning in from her nesting box and asking the broody hen what the heck she thinks she is doing over there. "After all the egg is laid and it is time to get on with the day", Charlotte admonishes her.  But Miss Broody Chicken remains on her eggs with the hopes of nurturing life despite her near death experience. I have told her that she is 100% chicken.

Charlotte harassing Miss Broody Chicken to get out of the nesting box
and get on with the day...Charlotte does not understand broodiness.

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