Stefanie Pettit: Plucky pet finds spot in pecking order
Three days before Christmas, I was returning home from some errands and, since the garage door was open, was about to pull in, when my husband came out and waved me off. There in the garage was a chicken.
Now, there has been chicken in the garage before – skinless, boneless and in clear wrap in the freezer – but this was the first feathered, strutting, pecking, squawking one. Due to the timing of her arrival, though I’m pretty sure there was nothing miraculous about it, we consider her the Christmas chicken. And lacking cleverness, we have named her Chicken.
We have no idea where she came from. We live in a suburb, not out in the country, although an urban wildlife corridor seems to run through our backyard, as raccoons, coyotes, porcupines, deer and others wander through on their way to more woodsy areas not too far away. But this is our first barnyard animal.
We figured she’d be on her way quickly or, worst-case scenario, coyote food. But, no, right at sunrise she’s been at our front door either waiting patiently for food or vocalizing to get our attention. She also reappears around 3:30 p.m. – while it’s still good and light out – for a second pass through the chow line. My next-door neighbor Marilyn reports that she also puts food out, and we do notice that Chicken is a good one-third plumper than she was when she first arrived.
Our son Carl was home for the holidays, and he set about researching free-range chickens, how they roost, what they eat and advice about care. My husband, Bruce, hunted around to see where she might go at night and discovered that she’s made a home for herself under our lower deck (the chicken poop gave it away). She perches on a coiled-up rope tucked in behind some boxes, fencing material and other equipment.
Marilyn checked with some people who have chickens a mile or two away from us, describing the bird to them. Nope, not their chicken. Bruce and Carl rigged up a better dwelling for her under the deck, one where she can see possible predators coming, where she can get some warmth and shelter and where they think she’ll be comfy.
I seem to be in charge of cuisine. City girl here. I stopped by Aslin Finch feed store and spoke with Debbie, the chicken expert, who looked at the pictures I took of Chicken, who is big and black with some brown in her feathers, and with yellow feet. The verdict is that she’s probably a Barred Rock-Rhode Island Red cross, a black sex link – all new terminology to me. Chickens pretty much eat everything, I learned, and this one certainly does, especially cucumbers.
What has been such a revelation to me is Bruce. He was the one who went thumbs down on having bird feeders because the seed attracts mice, and there’s too much poop. For more than 30 years, we’ve had dogs, but we haven’t yet been able to reach a compromise about fencing the yard. Hence, no dog now. But he washes off the chicken poop, checks on Chicken in her roost and takes the morning feed out for her. When we went to Canada for a few days, he reminded me to let Marilyn know we’d be gone so she would put out extra food for Chicken. Men are such interesting creatures.
If she is within earshot, Chicken will come when we call to her. Picture a sleepy adult on the front step yelling “Chicken!” And when she hears the garage door opening, she comes scooting from around the back of the house on a dead run. And she can really move. She stays close to the house, often loitering in our bushes or in the saplings in Marilyn’s yard. And she never comes out in the dark, which I suspect is why she isn’t residing in the belly of a coyote. Smart bird.
She hasn’t produced any eggs. She may be too old or not nourished properly or not quite comfortable in her lodgings – all things which affect egg production, I now know. That’s OK; she doesn’t need to earn her keep. We don’t know how long Chicken will stick around, but in the meantime, we are all enjoying her. Marilyn’s granddaughter had fun observing her during the holidays, and we adults continue to watch for her, save her dinner scraps, give her proper chicken pellets, clean up after her and worry if she doesn’t show up on her regular rounds.
Sometimes you don’t pick your pets; they pick you. I had wanted a dog, but, apparently, I have a chicken.
Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast. net.