Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day 173: Lonely Black Hen seeks Charming Rooster for Romance and More…

May 31, 2012

Nearly two months ago, raccoons or something similar broke into my chicken coop and slaughtered all but one wily black hen named, Lucy. Devastated by the loss, I swore off poultry husbandry. I planned to chop off Lucy’s head and eat her for supper and end my chicken-raising ways. But while sitting on a stump with Lucy tucked under one arm and an ax cradled in the other, killing her made no sense. I thought of rehoming her, but never had the heart to write up the advertisement and send her packing. She had been through a lot, and so had I.

It took Lucy about a week to calm down and lay eggs again. She has given one egg per day ever since. Her eggs are large, a misshapen oval with a terracotta-colored shell and marigold yolk. She is an amazing producer, and I enjoy her labor almost every morning.

After the attack, I consulted past issues of Backyard Poultry and read online articles regarding chicken intelligence and psychology. The popular opinion is that chickens are scatterbrained beings without complex processing or memory. This is what I have always thought to be true, but something changed. Lucy changed. I think she remembers.

Before the raccoon mayhem, Lucy exhibited aggression. She pecked hands that snatched eggs, bullied coop mates, and failed to cooperative when it came time to gather the free-ranging flock from the field and return to the coop for nighttime safety. Lucy snubbed the scam of roasted corn kernels rattling in a coffee can, a tried and true lure for the rest of the hens. Lucy refused to follow and refused to be herded like some common sheep. Instead, she made her twilight break for the blackberry brambles, where she remained until extracted an hour later by Jasper, my trusty back lab.

Basically, Lucy was a total bitch of a chicken, and I wished her dead many times. But she lived. She was the least favorite and the only one that lived. It figures. But she has changed. She grew timid, freezing in place when I enter the coop that she refuses to leave. I pick her up now, carry her outside and put her down, only to watch her scramble back to the dark recess of her home. I hold her, and she clucks in a state of agreeable comfort. I rock her in the crook of my arm and talk her through my morning chores.

“Well, let’s have a look at your water,” I say and move to a 7-gallon container that now seems excessive for one consumer. “Yup, yup, still full.” She pipes a couple staccato clucks and draws the third out in a low croon. I pretend she says, “Yes, yes, I told you so.” We cross the 10x10 coop to where a feeder hangs. “Now how about the food, Luce? You doing okay on food?” The feeder looks the same as it did yesterday, filled to the top with about 25lbs of granulated egg-layer pellets purchased from the farm supply store in town. We move to the nest boxes. “Oh!” I say sounding as surprised as possible. “Is that for me? Did you lay that for my breakfast? What a good girl, Lucy!” I pick through the straw bedding to retrieve a still-warm, reddish-brown egg. “It’ perfect. I love it.”

And this is the routine almost every morning since the attack. It’s just Lucy and I going through the motions. The silence of the once busy coop hangs in the stale air. With the exception of the 5-minutes it takes to complete my chicken chores, Lucy spends her days in silence, confined to the nest box by day and perched solo on her roost by night. She consumes very little water and almost no food. I bring her kitchen scraps that I think she might enjoy. She pecks holes in the watermelon rind but leaves an entire bruised apple untouched. She is not the same. I am not the same. The attack on the coop and the death of her flock changed her, changed me, or at least it seems that way.

Lucy is lonely, and I know a thing or two about being lonely. Back in my younger years, men and romance were sweet distractions, temporary fixes to the melancholy of loneliness.  As I grew older and hopefully a little wiser, I’ve come to know loneliness as an inner-affliction, solved not by outside stimuli like friends or lovers. I know this, but Lucy does not. Emotionally, she isn’t there yet. She’s just over a year old and doesn’t exhibit the complexities of an independent and thinking woman. Perhaps she never will. So, I did what any chicken BFF should do. I set out to find her a man.

Finding a rooster is almost as easy as finding a human mate, only sometimes you have to pay a $10 re-homing fee for the rooster, and you’re stuck doing all the driving. Clean-up and caring are also about the same – fetch the food and drink, stroke the plumage, tidy-up after he uses the bathroom… Really there is little difference. And then there is all the crowing and carrying on. Again, it’s nothing new.

I scrolled through Craigslist’s farm and garden section like reading the personals. I wanted a local boy, no geographical obstacles to stand in the way of romance, so I searched by county. As it turns out, backyard coops are a big deal in Kitsap County. Roosters were plentiful and several were free. Most of the listings were for young cockerels or small breeds. Lucy is a big gal, about 6lbs or so. No prepubescent roo or bantam could deliver the goods she needed. She needed a large mate, someone about the same age – striking and confident, but well-mannered. I had to find a bird respectful to humans, mainly me. I won’t tolerate attacks, talons cutting into the backs of my bare legs as I reach into a nest box for an egg or bend over to fill the feeder. I was searching for a real looker and a gentleman. And that’s when I found Gerry.

Gerry lived in a cul­-de­-sac community in Gig Harbor, a city chicken of exotic breeding. He needed a new home because neighbors complained of untimely crowing, sometimes at midnight, sometimes at 3am, and routinely from 5:30 to 11:00 in the morning. Gerry’s dedication to robust morning alerts made him unpopular.

Rachael, Gerry’s human, wasn’t sure of his kind. She only knew that he was an exotic. A mail-order hatchery in Connecticut included Gerry’s egg as an exotic bonus gift with Rachael’s order of fertilized domestic eggs. She thought for the longest time that Gerry was a female, but that was until he began to crow and take piggy-back rides from coop mates.   

One look at his downy-bearded face, compacted comb, flaming plumage, and green-black tail feathers, I knew he was an Ameraucana, or more commonly known as an Easter-egger. Ameraucana hens are prolific layers, producing up to 300 blue or green eggs per year. Of course Ameraucana roosters don’t lay eggs, but their offspring will. I pondered the match, the future chicks of Lucy and Gerry, the possible color combinations of offspring eggs, and I ponder future breakfasts. My first impressions found Gerry ridiculously handsome and kind. I knew I had found my man.

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