Today, I hatched an egg…

Day 21 of 21

Ruby made it to the end, though she looks a little worse for wear. Right now, she has three babies, but I have only had a good look at two. It’s very chilly outside, even in the garage, so all of the babies are tight under mama.

Both of Hector’s eggs hatched, and Bianca’s baby chick just couldn’t hatch all of the way. So after promising myself last night that I would only help a little and let nature take its course, when I saw the egg this morning, I thought it was worth a try to help. It looked like it may have been just stuck in the egg because the egg cracked and the membrane stuck to the chick (though I am not sure if there wasn’t some earlier issue). Still, that seemed fixable–maybe.

I had read some years ago about how to carefully hatch a baby chick from an egg, but I was pretty nervous about it. Baby chicks have skin so thin and fine. It’s very easy to hurt them. Plus, there is the sad reality that most chicks you have to hatch will not make it.

But in this baby’s case, I could see some strength. I thought, since it pipped and Friday and still had some strength on Sunday, maybe there was hope. So, this morning, while Ron did all of the morning chores, I sat in the bathroom light and, with tweezers, hatched a baby chick.

It was both terrifying and magnificent. When I had first eye free and it saw me, it definitely gave extra wiggles. Truly, it helped the whole time though, which makes me a tiny bit hopeful in a fairly hopeless situation. That baby wiggled and wiggled while I carefully peeled back shell and egg membrane one tiny piece at a time with a warm, wet paper towel helping when the membrane was dried and stuck. I hurried as fast as I could, but since I had to be so careful, I am worried about how cool it got–I mean on top of everything else.

We will see what happens. It did manage to fluff out, which is a good sign. However, it is not moving around like the other baby chicks. I am pretty sure it will not make it.

Ron asked me today what I thought its chances were.

“Maybe 50-50,” I said but then thought better. “Maybe just like 70-30.”

I didn’t have to tell Ron which side was 70. He knows. That little golden chick is an underdog for sure, and I always love the underdogs. I’m trying not to let myself love this one though. I am realistic about what will likely happen.

But I am happy overall that Ruby has her babies. She has had a tough broody period. I am glad for her to finally be a mama. This morning, she started eating the baby food and just ate for a bit. Thank goodness!

What Being a Chicken Mama Taught Me About Motherhood

This weekend is Mother’s Day. I think this year, more than ever, I am thinking deeply about motherhood. I am constantly assessing my failures as a mother and trying to figure out ways to do better. I have learned over the years that coming from trauma like I did impacts the way you mother your children–and not usually in a good way.

But I keep learning. I feel an enormous amount of guilt that I am a much better mama for my youngest child than I was for my oldest child. I was 21 when my oldest was born, and the only things I knew for sure were that I wouldn’t hit or spank, as I had been as a child, and that I would treasure her. It turns out that being a mother is far more complicated than that, though those two things are truly really good starts.

When you have one adult child who has been at least moderately forthcoming about where you went wrong (and the wildest thing to me is that it’s in ways I didn’t expect and don’t even remember sometimes), it helps you grow and learn as a mother.

However, I have also learned a lot from mothers in the animal world.

Before we got chickens, I had learned a bit about how elephants mother. I remember watching a nature documentary about a herd of elephants. A young mother had her baby fall into a muddy hole, and the baby couldn’t get out. The baby struggled. The young mother struggled to help her baby but couldn’t get it figured out. The narrator explained that the grandmother was there, looking on but trying not to interfere. She wanted her daughter to be independent and handle this difficult situation with her baby on her own.

But, after a little while, it was like the grandmother had had enough watching that baby struggle and charged over there, got the baby out of the hole, and the mother and baby were reunited. Thanks to wiser, older mom, who was trying very hard to not interfere but ended up having to.

The narrator explained that elephants are very nurturing mothers, but once their children are grown, they are more “hands off” so to speak. This seemed wise to me, but at the time, I had a baby and a teenager and didn’t yet have to practice the “hands off” part.

Later, we got chickens, and I had a chance to study motherhood in nature very close up.

When we have a hen go broody, if we want them to raise chicks, we separate them and put them in a dog crate in the garage. This ensures safety and privacy for the mama and her chicks, though I think our flock is chill enough that we could probably let a mama hatch eggs in the coop. Still, this plan also gives me a chance for deep study.

Over the years, I have watched about 15 chicken mamas in action. There are some commonalities among all of them: They are extremely nurturing and loving. Contact is constant, and when there is space between mama and baby, there is vocal contact.

Chicken mothers also teach with every moment and breath they have. It’s constant. Everything is teaching or nurturing or both. This is how we eat. This is how we drink. This is how we scratch. This is when we hide. This is the safe place to go. This is not the safe place to go. This human can be trusted. These other humans are strangers. I have even had the awesome experience of seeing a chicken mother hide her babies under leaves when a hawk was present. For real, those babies stayed there for at least a half an hour. I couldn’t believe it.

They are also infinitely patient. One night, I watched as our hen, Pumpkin, who was one of the best chicken mothers I have ever seen, sat patiently as her little boy climbed way up high on junk in our garage while everyone else was in bed under mama. He just kept climbing. I heard Pumpkin call for him several times, but he didn’t listen. Of course, you know what happened. He got up so high and then started crying–and crying and crying and crying.

Pumpkin got up, out of the dog crate, and tried to talk him down. Thankfully, Pumpkin had a human assistant, which is an important reminder that it does take a village to raise children. It’s just too hard to raise children without some kind of support system.

When that little boy was back safe and sound with his mama, he sang the sweetest songs to her. “I’ll never leave you again, mama,” he seemed to say. Of course, he did because that’s what they do.

Watching the way chicken mamas raised their babies helped me deeply understand the importance of my role as mother/teacher. It’s a mad world out there, and I can see that there is much to teach, probably more than I can even imagine, though I do try. So I try to teach about everything, and this requires being honest with my kids. I was not honest enough with my oldest when she was young, and I think that was a mistake. I think teaching requires some honesty, though honesty can be really, really hard. I surely don’t have all of the answers either.

But one of the most important lessons I learned was learning how to let go. After a mama hen has worked and worked to teach everything she can, when her babies grow up, she’s done. It’s such a hard job for her. She’s so exhausted, her comb is a little shriveled, and he has lost many of her feathers. The whole motherhood thing is so hard on her body that she molts. It’s time for her to take care of herself some, to heal from all of that work. It’s time for her to let her babies go, let them be grown ups.

It’s really hard. The mamas feel torn about it. The babies will sometimes cry for her, and when they cry, it sometimes confuses the mama hen. She’ll go back and forth between trying to cut the strings and caring for her babies just a little bit longer, but in a few days, she lets go.

As a human mom, I don’t think you ever let go, but I have learned to let go more. Last year, my grown daughter told me she needed some space from me. I had been trying to help her through a difficult situation, but I am sure I was really being bossy. It’s hard when you have the wisdom of age, when you have some answers, but your kiddos are not in a place where they want to hear them.

Even though it stung, like a lot, when my daughter told me I needed to step back, I remembered my mama hens, and I remembered that it’s okay to let them grow up.

I also remembered that there will come a time when I am finished losing my feathers, when both of my children are grown, when I have done my best to teach them everything I can. I will be sad. I will be so sad when my babies are all grown up.

But maybe I will also get my feathers back.

Good night, Rooster. Good night, Dvorak. Good night, girls.

Day 302 of 365

Tonight, I went to get my boots before I tucked in the ducks when I accidentally ran into Ron at the front door. We are both home pretty much all day and will go hours without seeing each other. We both stay pretty busy around here. But I ran into him, and he said he wanted to tell me a story.

He said, tonight, as he put up the food and water and closed up the chickens, he said, “Good night, Rooster. Good night, Dvorak. Good night, girls.” He said he says this to them every single night, and he thought tonight that it’s going to be so very sad when Rooster is not there to say good night to. Rooster has certainly been a fixture around here for seven years.

He said he started to feel really sad about losing Rooster but then realized just knowing this is the cycle somehow has to have soften the blow and make the grief more bearable. This seemed so wise to me.

I have definitely learned a lot about death from living on a little farm. It has forced me to think deeply about my own death and how I feel about it. It has also forced me to come to terms with grief. I am such a deep feeler that grief can be a little panic inducing to me, but I am learning. I am learning that my experiences with grief are a part of what makes me who I am, how I grow as a human, and how I honor the amazing souls I get to know on our little homestead.

A long time ago, I read an article about a woman who lived somewhere in Europe, I think, on a farm. She provided end-of-life care to old, abandoned, or injured farm animals. At the time, when I read that article, I admired the woman so deeply for doing that for these wonderful animals, for giving them love and care at the ends of their lives. I wished to do something so noble with my life, but I also wondered how in the world her heart could handle that much grief.

I think I am starting to understand. I think going through the cycles of life so much on our homestead has made me have a better understanding of the cycles of life. Maybe. I hope.

Chicken Profile: Schumann

Day 275 of 365

Chickens can tell time. A couple of weeks ago, I started letting the chickens out to play in our driveway because there are some spots in and around our driveway with little to no snow. Plus, it’s different. Different is always better. I let them out every day about 3:00. The day is winding down, but there is still a little time to play before dark.

The last few days, when I looked out the window before heading out to the coop, I saw little chickens feathers and faces from the front row of a crowd of chickens pressed against the screen door of the coop. It’s adorable!

Yesterday, something interesting happened though. Everyone walked by me as usual, eager to get out into the driveway as I held the door open wide, except for one hen–Schumann.

She stood right at my feet, maybe even touching my boot. This was very unusual behavior. I bent down and saw she was holding up one foot. I asked her what was wrong, and I swear she held that foot up with emphasis. I bent down to pick her up, and she didn’t fuss a bit, as most of our chickens do about being picked up. I knew something was wrong, and sure enough, she has bumble foot (For those who don’t know, this is an infection caused by a scrape or wound that gets infected and swells up. It’s treatable but can be tough to treat. Our ducks get bumble foot frequently in the spring because of the rocks, but I have rarely had to treat bumble foot in chickens).

I brought her into the house, discovered it was a bad bumble and put her in a bowl of warm water and epsom salt to soak. She was great about it. Ron kept adding warm water, so she wouldn’t get cold, and I sat with my head on her back to keep her company for the long soak. Thankfully, she just let me do this. Not all of my chickens will be so chill about snuggles. In fact, some will just peck me in the eye. It’s only a relaxed and trusting chicken who will allow such a thing, so I just tried to enjoy this time with Schumann.

After the soak, I removed the plug on her infection, about fainted from the puss, and then put antibiotic spray on the wound. I then wrapped her foot to keep the wound clean. I didn’t get all of the bumble on the first try, but I did all I could do at the time. It’s going to take at least a week or two of cleaning and wrapping to get this case of bumble foot cleared up, but I am hopeful. Schumann made sure I was aware in time.

I drove nearly two hours one way to a farm in Maine to get Schumann. I got two Easter Eggers–Schumann and her sister, Schubert, from a kind woman who I knew was a really careful chicken breeder. She saved Schubert for me especially, as she was a beautiful gray baby chick, and I picked Schumann by chance from a cage 10 baby birds. I thought she was pretty, and so I got her too.

This was four years ago, and my son, who seems so grown up now, was still a little boy then. He played with Schumann, Schubert, Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi a lot back then, and it was great. Schumann got a lot of humanizing when she was little.

But then, as it often happens, when they join the larger flock, a little bit of their wildness returns. Most of the chickens, even those who snuggled with me all the time as babies, prefer no snuggling when they are grown and living with the flock. Thankfully, I have a few who don’t mind the snuggle.

Schumann has an interesting personality. She’s a milder personality, so she’s a bit harder to read. The quiet ones often are, aren’t they? But she’s very sweet, not very high in the pecking order despite her age, and seems to be curious about humans. Not all of the chickens are. Some of them have far better things to do, but some–and you can see it in their eyes–look back at you with intention and curiosity. You know then you are being studied too. Schumann is one of those.

She is also the mother and grandmother of two generations of hens we hatched when I was working to make some Olive Egger babies. It worked! We have some beautiful olive eggs. Schumann and Schubert’s eggs were the only eggs I hatched one year. They are the mamas of Juliet, Bianca, and Kate (all three known for their high intelligence) and the grandmothers of Ruby and Arwen. If you follow my blog at all, you know those two are off the charts intelligent and interesting.

It is one of the most fascinating things that I have had genetics brought to life for me while raising generations of chickens: I knew that our personalities were partially genetic, but it seems like more and more, scientists are finding out just how much. I get to see this in action when I breed chickens, as one of the things I focus on when breeding is personality. I have learned through the years that our super-smart rooster, Rooster, mixed with a super-smart hen makes a very smart bird, perhaps too smart, as these birds tend to also have a harder time fitting in. Right now, I have a high number of very high-maintenance personalities. They make for great stories though!

Schumann, however, is fairly laid back and is smart but not so smart that she’s miserable. I feel like she has a pretty good life. One year, she got pecked on the head really hard. Head wounds bleed a lot, and since Shumann is white, she looked like a Stephen King movie when I found her in the chicken yard that winter day. I was beside myself thinking she must have a terrible injury. Thankfully, it wasn’t bad at all, but it took me forever to clean her up. She was still pink for a long time after that!

But during those hours of cleaning her up and then those couple of days keeping her in the garage to make sure she was all healed up, it was like we connected again. After that, I always watch her very carefully and make sure she is not getting picked on. I also make sure she always gets treats from me directly because she hates to get into the fray and fight for a treat.

And, here’s the best part, she’s one of Ron’s garden helpers. She hangs out with him all summer, eating bugs and grubs, which is chicken heaven. She also remains close to her sister, Schubert. In fact, one night last summer, I saw them snuggling big time and talking to each other on the roost. It was magnificent to witness.

She is always treated with love and respect. Of course, I feel terrible that I missed her bumble foot. We have had it so rarely that it’s not something I check for regularly when I do health checks. I need to change that.

This evening, before everyone started going to bed, I scooped her up from the driveway. Her bandage was still intact, so that was good. Ron held her as I removed her bandage, and I could see the wound was somewhat better but not as much as I had hoped. I cleaned her wound, added the medicine, added a little more padding this time, and wrapped her foot back up, weaving in out and between her toes with the vet wrap. She tolerated all of it well.

In the end, Ron sat her down, and I gave her treats of homemade wheat bread bites. She gobbled them up. Then, I took her out to the garage, and at bedtime, I made her sleep in the crate full of really soft straw. In my mind, I think that wound will heal better if she’s not on the roost all night putting her weight on it, at least for the first few days.

Schumann snuggled into the soft straw. Everyone loves soft, fresh straw.

Snow Shoveling…with Friends

Day 253 of 365

The snow was real snow today, not ice-snow, and the sun was out making for a lovely day. It was a good day to shovel snow, especially when you have such good friends who hang out with you while you shovel.

This is little Arwen. She is, perhaps, my favorite chicken. She’s the last baby from Rooster and is the great grand baby of Poe. She reminds me a lot of Poe. She’s smart and chill and observant. She hung out with me the whole time I shoveled in the chicken area, and then, when I went to shovel the deck, I saw her roaming around the whole yard, just walking on top of the snow. Isn’t she beautiful? And do you remember her from this summer? She was the little chick who would sneak under the fence and steal watermelon from the big chickens this summer. I had never seen anything like it. Her boldness was surprising, and I wondered what she would be like as a grown up. Really, really smart. That’s what she’s like as a grown up.

This is Dvorak and the back side of Piatigorsky. My little crew I raised this summer mostly sticks together still. I think Dvorak was the first one out of the coop today. Being cooped up with Rooster all day long was stressful. Dvorak completely understands that Rooster is the boss.

Every time I shovel this path, many hens will follow me out there. That’s Arwen in the front, and Poe Jr. Jr. is behind her.

These are some of the trees in the chicken area. They look so beautiful to me in the snow. We have lots of oaks, some maples, and some birch. We also have a lot of pine and fir trees.

You can see we are starting to get a little pile of snow. After a winter of no winter, I don’t mind the snow. The chickens, on the other hand, are not fans.

This is little Arwen. After I finished shoveling, she just took off around the whole property all by herself. Here, she is exploring the garden, which looks so empty in the winter time.

This is on the other side of our property where the ducks live and the dogs work and play. Bairre can’t be trusted with the chickens yet, and he’s barely able to be trusted with the ducks. We have had setbacks in the last week. It’s a reminder that Great Pyrenees do have to be taught not to chase the little things. Boudica is rebelling and not helping, which is unfortunate because she’s the best teacher, but today, Ron told her, “If he gets into the ducks, I’m gonna be grumpy at you.” I am not even kidding. Bairre did not get into the ducks the whole rest of the day.

And here she is. I think she’s the most majestic being I have ever known. Isn’t she beautiful? I think I ask that all the time, but I just marvel at her.

And last but not least, here comes Bairre. He was just playing with his stuffed gnome in the snow, but I was making such a fuss over Boudica being so beautiful. This meant Bairre had to come assert his cuteness. He is definitely majestic too.

The Ruby Gift

Day 193 of 365

Ruby has charmed Ron. She’s so difficult and somehow so completely charming. While she is no longer allowed to live in the garage since it is very cold outside and we have to shut the garage doors, she still roams around our property as she pleases when we are home. Today, Ron was outside building a winter “camp” for the chickens, and Ruby was hanging out with him all day. When I went outside to say hi, I saw that Ron had moved the dog crate out of the garage and into the driveway because “Ruby wanted to lay and egg and didn’t want to do it in the coop,” he said.

I took a peek, and there she was, completely satisfied with herself that she was back in her crate. She did lay an egg, which was great because we only got three eggs today.

But the best story was one Ron told me tonight. He said Ruby was on her gate tonight as usual. This is where she goes since she is reluctant to go into the coop, but she needs to sleep in the coop for safety and warmth.

She won’t do this for me. I have to scoop her up, which she complains about very loudly. But, for Ron, he just holds out his arm in front of her when she’s on the gate, and she will jump onto his arm. He carries her to the coop, and she hops off his arm.

Tonight, Ron said Ruby was hesitant. He said it was pretty dark, and Ruby was acting like she couldn’t see very well. So Ron held his arm out a little more to be better in her line of sight. And then he slowly moved his arm toward her.

He said that Ruby very slowly held out one foot and kind of reached for his arm. Then, she carefully brought over her other foot and adjusted her little feed to get a good grip. She wrapped her feet around his arm, which is such a cool feeling. He said he took her to the coop door, and she hopped off. He told her, “Good job, Ruby.”

When he was telling me this story, he said, “You were right about chickens. They are special, some even more so.”

This is true. They are all special, but some are extra. And when you meet those extra special chickens, the ones who just don’t do well with the flock, who connect more with you than their people, I feel you have to do your best to accommodate them. It’s not always easy, but, in return, you get to know a truly unique, interesting, beautiful being. It’s so worth it. And, after all, I know how it feels. I connect better with other species than I do my own people.

“Ruby’s a gift,” Ron said to me. “Like Poe was. Only Ruby has a very different personality, but she’s a gift like Poe was a gift.”

And this made me have tears.

Grateful for Chickens

Day 191 of 365

Last night, I had a bad dream. I dreamt that I had to give my up chickens. In my dream, we moved to an apartment, and I had to give my chickens to someone. I was in a panic. I knew my chickens would be stressed and scared, and I didn’t think anyone else could take care of them as well because they wouldn’t know their individual needs. I mean, who else is going to know what Ruby wants? Anyway, the dream was full of terrible anxiety. The last thing I remember was waking up the first morning in our apartment and hearing a rooster crowing. When I went to see why I heard a rooster, I saw that there was a house next door, and the people had a handful of chickens. When I saw the rooster, I started to cry from a broken heart because I missed my chickens. And then I woke up.

I am telling you I have never felt so happy to see my chickens in the morning, and I generally really like seeing them every single day. I felt badly for them though because it was a snow day. The first snow day is always hard on our chickens, especially the new people. I was so happy to see them, even though they were grumpy about the weather. I took them treats twice, and when I went to get the eggs, I thanked those chickens so much–and they only laid two eggs today. But that’s okay. I gave everyone who would allow it a pet. Jane is a mean chicken and pecks me every time. I still try though. And Mary Jane just lets me pet and pet her. She knows me well, and I love that.

Also, little Arwen, who has been Ruby’s sidekick since her mama Juliet ditched her at four weeks old, still can’t stay in the coop with the rest of the flock. Well, she can but chooses not to, so I assume she really just can’t.

We had to close the garage door because it’s getting too cold, so she had nowhere to hang out today. I figured she would stay in the coop with Ruby since it was bad weather, but nope. She got out somehow and hung out under Ron’s pick up all day. I took her food and water, and brought her extra treats a few times. She’s very young and a very interesting chicken. I’ll be interested in seeing how she behaves as she gets older.

Anyway, when I went outside to check on her the second time. I saw that I could see what she was up to all morning by following her tracks in the snow. She made some interesting decisions about where to go, I thought. She did come finish her treats while I was gone, but she also checked out the flower bed, the flower pot, and made various circles around the Subarau. She also had a little helper, some wild bird, eating some treats she must have left.

I love that I get to live so closely these animals. I must love them even more than I fully understand. My dream was terrible, but I woke up grateful for our chickens. I treasure getting to work with these fascinating animals.

A Ruby Update

Day 177 of 365

I am working on a longer post for later in the week, so I thought I would just tell a short Ruby story tonight and give a little update on the chicken that has become the most prominent little personality on our homestead. As you may remember, she was moved to the coop for sleeping at night last month, but she continues to fly over the fence (well, sometimes, I just open the gate for her) in the morning.

She spends her days hanging out in the front yard and in the driveway and front woods area. She never goes too far. She moves with the UPS driver comes down the driveway. She, like Juliet, seems to know how to handle herself very well away from the flock, so we let her roam. It’s a risk though. She’s safer in with the flock, but she just can’t take it in there. So we let her have some freedom at the risk of some security. I love her very much. She’s a difficult chicken, is very vocal, and she’s wicked smart. I have found in my life that some of the most difficult people I know are the smartest people I know. Ruby is no exception.

At night, when it’s time to go to bed, Ruby usually perches on the gate by the coop. She has done this her whole life, even before she moved to the garage this summer. It’s like she can’t take the stress of going to be. Roosting at night is more than a bit rowdy. There is a lot of fussing. Sometimes, the fussing is so bad that I got outside and grump at people. They will behave until I am about five feet from the coop, and then they are right back at the fussing.

Anyway, when we are away from home on the nights our son has orchestra, I worry extra about Ruby. I am terrified an owl is going to get her. So far, she’s always there when we get home.

Tonight, I had a run some errands, and it gets dark so early that it was dark when I got home. I didn’t see Ruby on the gate and started to worry immediately. She’s always on the gate. I looked in the garage and didn’t see her there either. I started to panic a little bit and ran inside to get the flashlight to check in the coop. I scanned the roosts and the nest boxes and still didn’t see her. So I called to her, “Ruby! Ruby!”

And then I heard some chicken talk from behind a group of young chickens from this year’s hatch. There, behind the muppets, sat Ruby. When I saw her and said her name again, she talked back to me again. I later found out that Ron had encouraged her to go into the coop early, so she went to bed early for him. She won’t do that for me. She is a much better-behaved chicken for Ron. It’s okay though.

I love that she knows her name. Ruby is such a difficult chicken, and I don’t know what I would do without her.

Rooster, the Best Rooster

Day 170 of 365

When we decided to get a rooster for our flock, we did not take the decision lightly. There are pros and cons to roosters, but in our efforts to be self-sustaining, we decided we wanted to try a rooster. We special ordered a Rhode Island Red rooster. I hand raised him and followed every bit of instruction I could find about raising a good rooster. I found out later that most of this information on the internet about raising a good rooster was incorrect, and our little Rhode Island Red rooster turned out to be pretty much a monster when it came to the hens. He was great with me, but he terrorized the hens. I kept reading that this was “normal.” I asked questions in forums, and people said it was “normal” rooster behavior. I had my doubts, but I was fairly new to chickens and doubted myself. 

Then, in a batch of baby chicks we ordered online, we got a free “surprise” chicken. A couple of months into raising that group of chicks, I heard a crow. What would we do with two roosters? But, since our Rhode Island Red was a holy terror, I wondered if this new little guy might be better. 

I moved the little guy into the garage where my favorite chicken in the world, Poe, often hung out, and I asked her to raise him. She did a great job. She pecked him on the head so much that I questioned her methods, but she helped raise a good boy. I have also learned that genetics help A LOT, but being raised by a strong female also helps the boys be a little better behaved. 

We named him “Rooster” by default, I suppose, and Rooster loved Poe. He stayed with Poe until he was big enough to move into the coop. He was always shy around us, but when we moved him into the main flock, we saw fairly quickly that he was great with the hens. He danced to woo them and seemed to be far less aggressive than our Rhode Island Red rooster.

Then, there was one day the neighbor called to say a fox was in her garden, which was right next to our chicken area. I thanked her and ran outside to try to save my chickens, only to find that Rooster was at the gate to the run, calling to all of the girls. He had every one of those hens lined up (they were literally in a line) and headed to the coop to safety. When the last one was headed to the coop, he followed them in. He had organized a plan, and everyone was just fine!

I knew we had lucked into the best rooster, but it wasn’t until the Rhode Island Red rooster nearly killed our sweet girl, Broody Hen, that he went to the pot and Rooster became the full-time head of the flock. 

Over the years, he has still never been comfortable with me touching him. He’s very proud, and we learned a few years in that he’s an organizer and a thinker—but not a fighter. 

The first time we had a hawk attack, I ran out to find it killing one of our hens, Lucy II. It was devastating. I scooped Lucy II up and looked around to try to find Rooster. I found him. He had called for as many girls as he could and was holding them in the shrubs, but I guess the attack surprised him. He stared for nearly an hour at the place where the attack had happened. I could see the devastation on his face. 

When he finally got all of the girls to the coop later, he would not let them out again for nearly two weeks. I didn’t know how obvious a chicken’s sadness could be until I saw Rooster. He was depressed for the longest time. I could see he thought he had failed his flock, and it had broken his little heart—and his spirit. I worried for a bit that he might not snap out of his depression, but he finally did.

He is still not a fighter, but he’s very, very good at alerting us to danger. And I am now smart enough to know what his calls mean and when I need to come running in a hurry. Just last summer, he screamed like I had not heard in years, so I dropped everything and ran just in time to see two hens fighting off a hawk. Rooster seemed so relieved that everyone was okay.

I have two particularly powerful stories to tell about Rooster that will help you get a sense of who he is. Because he’s so proud and doesn’t like my touch, I would never give him health inspections like I did the girls. I figured if the girls were overall healthy and mite free, Rooster was as well. But one summer, I saw him being really tired and droopy. I had been really busy rehabilitating a duck I had inherited and didn’t notice Rooster until he was in pretty rough shape. I realized I was going to have to make him uncomfortable and give him a full health check. He was getting older, and I thought we may lose him. 

I went to the coop that night with a flashlight, and I didn’t have to inspect very much before I saw the problem. My sweet Rooster had mites!

I was a little nervous about doing this because he’s a big boy, a Welsummer, and his spurs are big too, but I scooped him up and took him to the guest bathroom for a bath and mite treatment. On top of the humiliation of a bath, because I couldn’t stand the thought of those mite eggs being stuck in his feathers, I spent more than an hour picking out eggs of poor Roster’s feathers while he stood on the towel after his bath. He just stood there and let me do my work—forever. 

When I had gotten as much as I thought I was going to be able to get for that night, I told Rooster I was so sorry, that I would make sure he never had mites again. And I am not kidding even just a little bit, this happened:

I was in the floor with him. We were both a wet mess. He turned around to look at me and then came up to me and leaned his body into mine. There, in the bathroom floor, he leaned his head on my shoulder and held it there the longest time. I gently put my arm around him and realized this was one of those profound moments of my life. My sweet but stand-offish Rooster was giving me a hug. 

If I wasn’t in love with him before, I surely was after that. When I told my neighbor about it, she said I might need to be careful about telling people that story, that people might think I was crazy. Here I am now, with full confidence, telling you this story. I have seen so much more since then, and I can, without hesitation, say that chickens can give you a hug in a special moment. The bonds we share are real, and they are highly intelligent animals, some especially so.

That was the sweetest story about my Rooster, but I have an amazing story too.

A couple of summers ago, I had just moved some young chickens out with the main flock. They were still little, so I had to try to feed them their special baby food every chance I got. I was out in the chicken yard one morning, feeding the babies, when Rooster came up, ran them off, and started eating their baby food. In his old age, Rooster has definitely become a foodie. 

I shamed him and told him, “These are your babies, Rooster. Shame on you for stealing their baby food.” 

He backed away, obviously ashamed of himself, and then I felt terrible for shaming him. I could see I had hurt his feelings. I did not mention this story to my husband, Ron.

Later that afternoon, Ron came into the house and said, “I have to tell you a story about Rooster that you aren’t going to believe.” 

Ron said that he was out in the chicken yard, and he saw Rooster near the babies. “I saw the most remarkable thing,” he said. “Rooster picked up a pellet of food in his beak and then leaned over and fed it to a baby chicken!” 

I could NOT believe this. I then told Ron my story from earlier in the day, and we realized we, indeed, had a very intelligent and very special rooster on our hands. 

In his very old age now, he’s far too grumpy. He used to give all the food to the hens. Now, he takes the food for himself. He doesn’t mate much, but he still tries some. This summer, when we tried to raise some chicks from our own eggs, we had about a 25 percent fertilization rate and an even smaller success rate. 

We need a new rooster, but the new rooster has to get along with Rooster and know his place because, no matter what, our Rooster is going to be cared for to the best of my abilities until the day he passes. And when that day comes, I will mourn him with all of my heart. 

Rooster is one of the greats. 

A Perfect Ride

Day 153 of 365

Today, we managed a bike ride in the city forest. In the past month, our schedules have been so busy that we barely have time for bike rides, but we keep managing to sneak to the forest every chance we get. I still love riding my bike. I am getting better at it, too. I don’t feel so scared I’m going to crash and die all of the time. I am definitely the weakest link in our little trio, but Ron and our son stop every time there is a turn and wait for me, so I won’t take a wrong turn. Ron, forever the motivator, tells me what a good job I am doing. Our son, so completely a teenager, sometimes seems annoyed with my slowness–but only sometimes.

Today, he seemed tired, so while Ron did an extra lap around the forest, our son stayed with me until Ron came back around to us. While Ron was making the extra lap, my son went slowly the whole time, so I could keep up. We stopped for a while and talked about the trees. We saw a magnificent rabbit. We met a little porcupine. We had a great time, and because we were traveling more slowly than usual, I stopped quite a few times to take pictures.

It was the best bike ride of my life, and I am thankful for these pictures. I hope my son will remember this day, somewhere down deep–the bike ride with his mama in the beautiful city forest with the fantastic foliage and the little rabbit and porcupine. He’ll remember that, right?

It was just this perfect afternoon being with my family and the trees. One time, we stopped in a clearing for a break, and looked up to see like 50 beautiful birds flying high, right over our heads.

“I wonder that kind of birds they are,” Ron asked.

“I think they are crows, but they are so quiet. I’m not sure.” I responded.

And, then, as soon as I finished that sentence, as if just to let me know, we heard the “caw, caw, caw.”

I love crows more than I can say.

The pines were so tall I couldn’t get their tip tops in the picture, but aren’t they magnificent?
I am not sure, but I think the trees are extra beautiful this year. Usually, there is this kind of sequencing to the colors I notice, but this year, it’s like the trees coordinated. Some of them look like they are just on fire. Oh, how I love Maine.
This is one of the back trails we often take. This is where we met the bunny and the porcupine.
More of the trail–with magnificent color. Of course, the pictures cannot do it justice. Everyone says that because it’s true.
I think I could have gotten a closer picture of the bunny, as we were being very still and quiet, but some people came up behind us fairly loudly. The bunny hopped into the trees, but this is still a pretty good picture. The bunny was so incredibly beautiful.
I wish you could see his little face better in this picture. I could see his little face so well. I loved seeing this beautiful animal because our son, who is usually such a grumpy teen, was talking so sweetly to the little porcupine. That kiddo rebels agains my hippie ways, but I can see he has some hippie in there down deep.
And this is now my favorite picture ever.
And, when we got home, we had a pear-cranberry crisp I had made while the guys were doing homeschool math today. That was a little bit of perfection too, and I will definitely share the recipe tomorrow.