November 21, 2013 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Chickens teach the importance of second chances

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A week from today – Thanksgiving – we’ll all be involved with turkey and the tryptophan coma that results from eating so much of it, along with all the trimmings. This past week, however, I had the lovely experience of chatting about poultry of another variety, one that shall never become dinner.

I had lunch with Joan, with whom my old friend Miss Chicken now resides. The occasion was the third anniversary of the relocation of this former feral chicken from the unsafe (for chickens at least) dominion of my neighborhood to the secure home for wayward chickens that Joan operates.

I have been writing about Miss Chicken for four years now, the first year after she appeared from we-don’t-know-where to allow my neighbor Marilyn and me to leave food out for her but never to subject herself to being handled or domesticated as she hung out for 11 months. And in the past three years, once we managed to capture her and place her in Joan’s home (free of coyotes and cats and open exposure to the winter snows), I’ve kept up on her doings and shared the news with her fan club.

And once again I am happy to note that life is good in the farm yard. Joan tells me there’s really nothing going on among her 15 chickens, but I find that’s not so.

Miss Chicken continues her somewhat isolationist behavior, still not caring much for being picked up or being snugged up against the other chickens on the roost at night, though she will tolerate both. An icy stare and occasional peck accompany attempts at too much familiarity, and she does enjoy free ranging around the yard with her now-grown babies Miss Sophie and Miss Daisy. Just no touching.

The chickens have completed their summer chore – bug control. The appropriate number of earwigs, pill bugs, slugs and the like have been consumed, and the feathered flock has moved on to its autumn task, leaf redistribution. When Joan’s husband, Jim, rakes up leaves from the lawn and dumps them into the garden from large garbage cans, there is no need for him to spread them around. The chickens get in there and do that for him. “We really never have to scatter the leaves to cover the garden,” Joan said. “Our crew is always ready and willing.”

There are some lovely stories evolving from among the flock. For example, this year Joan took in what had been described to her as a rogue chicken, a Rhode Island Red who abused all chickens she encountered. Joan gently acclimated Betty to the flock, and she integrated nicely. Turns out she has become best buddies with Josie, another Rhode Island Red that Joan took in sometime earlier. Josie had been the picked-on chicken in her previous flock and was headed for an unhappy demise unless relocated.

At Joan’s place, the bully and the bullied have become fast friends. They just needed the right circumstances, the right home.

Last year I wrote about one of Miss Chicken’s 2012 crop of babies, a Mille Fleur who Joan picked up on the way out of a feed store with a few other day-old chicks for Miss Chicken to mother. MC’s mothering instincts are strong, and when she goes broody, there’s no outlasting her. Joan always gives in and gets her some babies to raise. As she was leaving, she spotted one chick in the pen who was clearly languishing, sure to die within a day or so. Joan thought that she deserved a chance, and if anyone could properly nurture her, it would be Miss Chicken, the bird who survived against some noticeable odds herself.

So for $1, the ailing baby bird came home with Joan, too – and not only survived but thrived. Now in the early morning hours when Joan comes in to the hen house, One-Dollar-Maggie hops off the roost and on to the feeder. She looks up at Joan and fixes her with a gaze, one which Joan interprets as a “pick me up please” request. So Joan tucks Maggie in to her jacket and goes about doing her chores one-handed – filling the hopper, gathering eggs, filling water dishes, etc.

“I love that little chicken to death,” said Joan, though she’d probably say the same for all her girls.

But that’s not all. Every year Joan enters produce from her garden and eggs for judging at the Spokane Interstate Fair. This fall, Miss Chicken’s daughter Miss Sophie, an Araucana, took a blue ribbon with special award rosette for best eggs in her category. “They are a beautiful baby blue, with a gorgeous sheen and uniform in size and shape,” Joan proudly reported.

And she also entered a dozen of One-Dollar-Maggie’s cream-colored eggs as well. They won a blue ribbon with special award rosette in the banty egg category. This nearly dead chick who was rescued by Joan and nurtured by Miss Chicken has gone on to become a beloved early-morning companion and a champion egg layer.

There’s a life lesson here. Never count anyone – or any creature – out. When given a chance (or a second chance), some of the best behaviors and achievements can come from unexpected and unlikely places. Even from the farm yard.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/columnists/.


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