Tag Archives: animals

What About Your Chicken?

Harrybadface asked a question that requires an official answer, so here goes…

Bob and I used to have five chickens, as you know.  Then, about two weeks before moving day, those chickens got attacked by a forest creature.  Probably an ermine, since we’ve seen them on the property, and since it was able to sneak both ways through our wire fence.

Two chickens were killed in the attack, and I should point out that these were not food kills, but thrill kills, which are more popular in the animal kingdom than you might like to think.  Essentially, this ermine killed our chickens for kicks, then sauntered away.  Now he’s out getting pet in some oil painting.

But wait, there’s more: Over the course of the next days, two of the remaining chickens, despite being otherwise unharmed, died of fear-related causes. We’re guessing that they found the memory of the attack too much to bear.  And this is something that happens to chickens, or so I’m told.  They literally scare themselves to death.

Unless of course they’re too stupid to realize that they should be scared.

The lone surviving chicken, it would seem, is just that stupid.  When we opened the door one morning to find that her last remaining coopmate had expired during the night, she paid even that no mind–just stepped over her dead friend like a doormat and greeted Bob at the threshold, her neck moving in inquiring spasms.  “Whatcha got?”

* * *

I think Bob began to hate this chicken at that moment, and if it were up to him, she would still be in solitary confinement out of town, no joke.  Add to that the fact that all our prospective chicken inheritors withdrew their offers right after the attack, perhaps fearing they were getting damaged goods, or worrying the survivor had done it all herself.

Luckily, our neighbors’ daughter was able to find a new home for the bird with her ex, a guy who has a bunch of chickens already.  She even helped relocate the bird personally.  The only flaw in the plan, as I saw it, was that this ex of hers also had a rooster.  Bob and I never kept one ourselves, partly because they never shut up, and partly because we’ve seen the clawmarks on the backs of popular hens–another dark facet of the chicken lifestyle that The Left works hard to cover up.

But this time, it would seem that the proverbial claw is on the other chicken butt.  When the new girl arrived, all the other hens in the pen took it the wrong way, and got real jealous of her.  Fighting jealous.

They have been kicking the shit out of that poor rooster ever since.

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Fire-Breathing Chickens

Bob’s chickens have been here for months, but you may notice that I haven’t mentioned them once since they arrived. This is because they engender in me a profound feeling of mistrust.

I chalk it up to the unbreakable association that “The Music Man” has forged in my brain between chickens and matronly gossips–whenever I hear our feathered tenants clucking in their coop beside The Schmabin, I can’t help but think that, were they transformed into people, they would be talking shit about me.

Thankfully, our neighbor Henry has helped me change my point of view.

Henry hasn’t been mentioned here yet, and this is a terrible oversight—he is certainly one of the superstars of Lonesome Valley. An ex-military guy who lives over the general store, he works days in a tuberculosis research laboratory, practices playing the drums at night, and is the biggest science geek I have ever met, which is saying something. The way I subconsciously find a way to bring up horror movies or musical theatre, Henry will find a way to drop the word “diglyceride”.

So one day, Henry and I were outside the trailer chatting, when Bob came around the corner with, for reasons that escape me at present, a chicken in his arms. This was when Henry said the magic sentence: “Wow, you can really see the dinosaur in them…” and promptly launched into the story of how much has changed since science accepted that dinosaurs have little to do with lizards, and everything to do with birds.

I looked again at the chicken in Bob’s arms and saw not a morbidly obese septuagenarian in a muumuu and a feathered hat, but a fallen dragon. Better yet, one that lays Grade AA eggs.

So say it now, say it loud: I own chickens, and I’m proud.

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Morning Report

Things change from year to year, even week to week, so I thought it might be useful to include the current “process” for my Lonesome Valley morning, circa 2009.

At 6:22am, my cel phone wakes me to the strains of The Chemical Brothers’ “The Pills Won’t Help You Now”–not necessarily because I like to start the day thinking about prohibitively-expensive psychotropics, but because “Pills” is one of the most peaceful pieces of music I can imagine waking to. “In a moment of fear, you dig in your heels, the pills won’t help you now, once you cry…” It’s a song that seems to feel sorry for its listener, and when I wake up to go to The Practice, especially in the era of the swine flu, I want an alarm clock with some sympathy.

I don’t have to be at work until 7:50am, so after shutting the music off, I have about twenty minutes of hem-and-haw time before responsibilities start kicking-in. During this “denial” period, my sheltie Mortimer usually tries to groom my goatee. If I let him do it, he will spend ten minutes dutifully coating every subcutaneous follicle—and he will only clench his paws harder over my shoulders if I squirm. I have to turn on my side if I seek to refuse the service.

Once out of bed, the first thing to do is turn up the thermostat on the propane furnace, so that the rest of the trailer will (eventually) get as warm as our ceramic-heated bedroom. Teeth-and-the-rest-of-me ablutions then, with the iron-rich water from our well (an amber liquid that looks twice as sketchy when it’s coming out of a faucet or shower, but that has checked out okay for microbes and poisons, so whatev).

I get dressed next, inevitably employing “layers”, and head outside to let Mortimer do his dirty business. Afterward, I gather the poop in a paper towel, and flick it into the swamp on our property, which always makes me feel like a magician producing flying turds from a handkerchief, in place of doves.

Then it’s back into the trailer to pour oats, sugar and cinnamon into a dollar-store sippy-cup that I use as a breakfast caddy. This container, made of clear green plastic and decorated with a newborn cartoon monkey, looks so utterly “kid” that I try not to let anyone at work see me use it, for fear they will think I caught and ate the baby it belongs to.

Next, I put two slices of bread in a sandwich-caddy, and put it into my messenger bag. Why not a whole sandwich, you ask? Because our trailer fridge is busted, and we’ve decided, either out of cheapness or laziness, that rather than fix it, we’ll just wait until it gets consistently cold enough to put a beer cooler outside and call it a fridge. In the meantime, I’m keeping lunch perishables at work. (Bread I keep at home, or else the nurses may eat it.)

Once my bag is stocked, I sit on the trailer fold-out and wait for Mortimer to finish eating. He will only eat when both Bob and I are home, so if I leave too early, he’ll be hungry all day—but he always waits until he’s absolutely sure I have not dropped any bread and/or oatmeal to get started.

When I hear him drinking his “water back” I know he’s finished, and at this point, I get up to leave. He usually catches on, and starts barking at me—Mortimer is a herding dog after all, so he’s convinced it’s his job to keep me and Bob in the same place.

But his prospects for income are vague to say the least.

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Plus/Minus

The house has been disappearing in pieces for over a month now.

Strangely, I never seem to notice these omissions until after I’ve returned home from work. I’ll park the van, climb into the trailer, and somehow miss the fact that the back room has been reduced to a pile of planks, or that the roof has been wrest away. “Did you notice the entire second floor is gone?” Bob asked me last night, and I was forced to confess that, nope, I hadn’t. It could be that my sense of scale has gone “macro” from seeing all the mountains on my ride home. But it could also be one of my old habits from The City: That of never looking up.

The changes I do notice are the additions. Bob and Walt only work on the house every other day, and in the meantime, Bob takes on these not-so-little side-projects of his own. Like the Jane-Austen-style fence that he wove behind the Schmabin, made entirely of twisty tree branches, in a single day. Or the wooden muppet, roughly the size of a ten-year-old, that he carved to stand guard over our rhubarbs. Or our functional chicken house, made entirely from discarded boards.

Of these three new features the chicken house is, understandably, the one that frightens me the most–the only clearer harbinger of impending chicken ownership being a wobbling egg with a beak sticking out of it.

Even if I could fool myself into thinking Bob had just built this thing for show, our recent trip to the poultry exhibit at the county fair would have made his intentions perfectly clear. That, and the fact that his Mac features a Rhode Island Red as wallpaper.

But I’m not as worried about the inevitable chickens as I am about the equally-inevitable goats.

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