Backyard Farm Stories
New Kids on the Block
On account of Odessa’s homicidal tendencies, her chicks popped out of their shells in an incubator on my kitchen counter instead of under the warm body of a momma chicken. Not what I had in mind. Not what the chicks had in mind either. While still in their eggs they’d been lulled by Odessa’s maternal ‘pluck, pluck, pluck’ and they were undoubtedly looking forward to her momma-hen warmth and affection. Imagine their surprise when they saw me. I tried to ‘pluck, pluck’ like Odessa but they just looked at me like "seriously, you’ve got to be kidding" and turned to one another for solace. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
They probably could have done quite well without human intervention but I explained to them up front that there were house rules: I gave them shelter, food and water and in exchange they had to put up with a certain amount of loving. At first, they objected but after a while they seemed to enjoy the attention.
The little black and white chick had a big schnozz and was feisty (he pushed the other chicks around and bit my finger when he was only three days old) so I named him J. Durante. *
The pretty, shy black chick became Robin because she looked like one and I called the patchwork-quilt, bad-hair-day chick Goldenrod.
Chicks are meant to hatch in the spring so they can enjoy longer days and warmer temperatures as they get older. Usually they’re outside at two weeks of age.
Odessa’s kids hatched in September so they had to live in a box in the house for five weeks and then huddle under a heat lamp in a metal shed for two more while they grew feathers. Only then did they get a coop of their own to call home.
Unfortunately, they didn’t know what to do with it. Instead of going up the ramp when it was time for bed, they’d pile up behind the coop, on the ground or under a bush. Each night I had to round them up and put them in the coop. I thought they’d get the idea. They didn’t. So each night for the better part of freezing cold dark November I crawled inside the coop and tried to push them up the ramp. I thought I was teaching them. They thought I was trying to kill them.
Now if Odessa had been in the picture, she would simply have walked up the ramp and they would have followed her. One trial learning. But given that I could neither crawl up the ramp nor fit through a five by ten inch door and lacking a better idea, I kept pushing until...
One evening Robin -- who always defers to the others and never makes her own decisions -- simply walked up the ramp by herself and disappeared into the coop thus violating the "we always stick together" flock mandate. However, she must have had second thoughts about her rash decision for she immediately let out a wail of heart-rending cheeps.
Meanwhile, downstairs J.D and Goldenrod were running around in a panicked frenzy trying to figure out where Robin had gone. (We can hear her, why can't we see her???)
I waited to see if they’d solve their dilemma but the crisis showed no sign of resolution. I thought for sure I’d have to intervene.
But then the most amazing thing happened: Robin pulled herself together, walked back down the ramp calm and cool as could be, cheeped to get the attention of her less-clever sibs and then led them up the ramp into the coop.
From then on, they knew what to do. Way to go Robin!
Meet Goldenrod, Robin and J. Durante
Robin & Goldenrod
One day I heard a horrible racket, like the squealing, screeching sound a car makes right before a collision. I came running and there was J.Durante looking quite pleased with himself. He looked at me and went SCCCRRRAAK SCWAP which I assumed was baby chick talk for cockadoodledoo. Seemed like I had a rooster on my hands. Thinking back, the signs were all there. The bite he took of my finger. And when they were still little puff balls, J.D. and Goldenrod used to puff up and get tall, rush at each other and do that chest-bump thing football players do after their team wins the super bowl. No pecking or bloodshed, just a war of intimidation. At the time I feared I might have two roosters but after a while they worked it out and now they get along fine.
I updated J.D’s status to J-Roo. So far Goldenrod and Robin have not revealed their gender identities. I’m hoping for girls because no one wants more than one rooster! Stay tuned…
The chicks are now three months old and have turned into handsome adolescents; free-range and happy. It’s freezing cold and coming up on the shortest day of the year but they don’t seem to mind. They come running whenever I appear so I guess they don’t hold grudges for the box prison lock-down, the cold shed and all the pushing.
They spend a lot of time by the fence checking out the working girls next door. J-Roo has started doing the chest bump thing with his future wives to let them know there's a new Roo in town.
In a few months when the chicks are big enough to hold their own, I'll open the gate between the two yards and the kids will have a chance to work things out with Odessa. Hopefully there won't be any hard feelings...
J-Roo checking out Robin's bling
Is that a worm? Should we eat it?
There is no way I came out of one of those things. And why am I standing on a kitchen counter?
* Jimmy Durante was a commedian with a really big nose who made people laugh back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, radio ruled and T.V. was brand new.