My seven chickens are quite the young women now. They really should be out in a pen, not still in a Rubbermaid container in the side room, but tractor work will be started this week and I don’t want to horrify them with large machinery. The big girls have begun to squat on the floor like broody hens. Most of their feathers are in and they look very sleek and lovely. The Americaunas, who are almost two week older than the others, are much larger and also much shyer. They are usually at the bottom of the pile when I go in to change their water. Why is it that I’ve held them, fed, watered and cleaned them, crooned to them, and every time I put my hand in there they start screaming and flying around as if I’m going to murder them? I’ve explained my vegetarianism to them, after all!
Then there are the two smaller girls, the Barred Rocks. These girls have attitude. They were in a large cardboard box for awhile, but the larger of the two kept jumping up and out. Last week I found that they were in the same container as the larger girls! Apparently they both got out of their own box, had a time pooing on the floor, then went exploring into the big girl’s domain. The Barred Rocks (BRs) were in one corner, and all five of the big girls were dogpiled in the far corner. They were all frightened of each other! (Yes, the term chicken comes to mind here.) I left them for the night thinking that maybe they’d settle in together (no pecking), but heard intermittant squawks. Apparently the Silver Wyandotte would be brave enough to verture over and scare the BRs, then the larger of the BRs would venture over and scare the others. Geez. So I pulled out an old birdcage and put the BRs in it. They like it just fine, and are enjoying the wooden perches. Of course, teaching chickens to perch in trees is not a good idea, but I have experience with this phenomena.
About fifteen years ago, me and my young children were living in a house in Vista along a busy steep road. Across that road was a fenced property with avocado trees and a couple of loud Rottweilers. On the corner of my yard was a tall pine tree that stretched past the convergence of telephone wires.
I had the opportunity to aquire some mature hens from my boss who couldn’t keep them any longer. One in particular was a Barred Rock with an attitude. We were novices at chickens, just claiming cats, dogs, fish and tortoises at the moment. The first night the chickens spent in the garage. Chickens after dark are like moaning footballs. Like bees, they don’t fly after the sun falls, and those who would scream and behave as if they were about to be axe-murdered upon your approach in the light, would in the evening suffer you to pick them up and tote them around like inanimate objects. Inanimate except for the low crooning moans of great distress and sadness that chickens use as lullabys.
I built a very large, and in my opinion, handsome cage for them on wheels (a chicken tractor and I didn’t even know it!), and there they lived. We allowed them to roam during the day when we were home. Then we found that one of the Barred Rocks, and I’ll give her name to you now as DC although that sobriquet was bestowed later, enjoyed flying up to the lowest limbs of the great pine tree. I’d never heard of chickens flying. There are, thankfully, no chicken migrations darkening the sky across the Southwest. If you haven’t seen a chicken for awhile, take a gander at one (oops, wrong fowl) and notice how round and large they are. They are not sleek, flying birds. The BRs, mostly black with white dabblings all over them, look especially rotund and solid, like cast iron. My children and I thought that DC aiming for the heights was, at first, funny.
Then came the day that I went outside to find that DC had set and acquired goals for herself, and had fluttered branch by branch up the pine tree until she was very high up indeed. We tried to lure her down with food and endearments. My son attempted to climb up after her. DC, the most ornery of birds, instead of retreating into the waiting arms of my son, decided to fly. Her first flight was a brief one, more of a fluttering really, to the telephone wires that lined the busy street. There she sat, proudly swaying back and forth on the slender line. If you haven’t seen a chicken on a telephone wire, you really can’t imagine what it looks like. It isn’t like seeing a hawk or another large bird, because they are shaped the way they should be. A chicken, as I’ve said, is like a dark super-sized soccer ball balanced on a wire as if ready to drop any moment. They shouldn’t be that high. I think only seeing an ostrich on a telephone wire would look as strange. The vehicles that came speeding down that hill slowed and made careful detour around the area where she might land if indeed she did drop and shatter their windshields. DC appeared to be about to break her neck, and at this point I was saddened at the thought that it would be her own machinations and not my two hands that would do the act.
My thought now was to get her to fly, or rather drop, back into the fenced area of my property. I don’t remember what time of day it was, but I was dressed in my Park Ranger uniform and badge. There I was, on the far side of the two-laned road in uniform, dodging and directing and apologizing to drivers, an armful of pine cones at the ready, chucking them as high as I could at DC. I am a poor pitcher and none of them came close. However the shouting, the chucking, the passing vehicles and the breeze all made DC come to the decision that she was, indeed, a flying chicken. With grace she launched herself. Chickens don’t fly, but they will, if the wind is willing, glide. She passed unsteadily over the road, causing the driver of a pickup truck to swerve as he caught sight of the immense black object bearing down on his windshield. She just hit managed the top rail of the neighbor’s chainlink fence before teetering over and falling into their yard of avocados.
Dropping my armful of pinecones, saying unpleasant things under my breath, I went to knock at the door of the house who now had a new kind of bird in their yard. No one was home. I’d never met these people, and had only come away with a feeling of slight hostility from them. I went around to the gate in their chainlink fence and the lock was on it but unlatched. Closing the gate behind me I ducked under and around the variety of fruit trees, calling for my lost pet, hoping that the inhabitants of the house were not just lunching on the back porch with their rifles handy. I caught sight of DC, who looked no worse for wear but a little flustered by her adventures and in no mood to suddenly become docile and walk over to me. At the same time that I caught sight of her, I stepped in a pile of poo. A very large pile of poo. That’s when I remembered the Rottweilers.
I froze, listening. I hadn’t heard any barking, not even when I knocked at the front door. That could mean that the huge unfriendly dogs were on the back porch with their huge, unfriendly owners, and all of them had rifles. And as DC headed around the back corner of the house, I thought I’d pause and see what happened before I lost my direct pathway to the side gate.
After no explosions of ammunition or feathers occurred, I went after her. Bent over to avoid branches, hissing so as not to draw attention to myself, chasing her around in circles because chickens are the most uncooperative of animals, I finally cornered her. I threw a stick so that it landed behind her, and scared her enough to run towards me. I grabbed. She screamed and fussed as I ran with her tucked under my arm, not unlike a football, back across the street to the safety of my own yard.
It was afterat we began to clip her wing feathers,, and it was then that she earned the name of DC, which stands for…. Damned Chicken.