Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | Chicken humour

Stanstead QC | 11 Feb 2012

Chickens are interesting little creatures. Who’d have thunk it? If you live long enough in the city with no exposure to farm life, you can be forgiven if you begin believing that chickens are egg-laying automatons. And then one day you find yourself walking out to the chicken coop in your backyard, insulated red plaid L.L. Bean shirt providing a much-needed layer of protection against the early morning chill. Yes, I am the caretaker of three hens named Minnie, Shania and Becel.

Shania is an Easter-Egger. She’s part Araucana and so when she lays eggs they are a delicate shade of blue. It’s quite amazing to behold when one of Shania’s eggs graces the palm of your hand. Tastes the same as other fresh-laid eggs.* Just looks entirely and extraordinarily different. Shania’s plumage looks a bit like she’s wearing an extravagant costume with golden feathers on her neck. She’s not the friendliest of the crew. Actually, Shania is downright ornery when given the opportunity to express herself with beak or feet. Picking her up is always an interesting exercise in faked assertiveness – because, really, I’d just as soon get the heck out of there.

I don’t pick the chickens up on a regular basis however sometimes it’s a necessity. This summer they had a mite infestation in their nesting box and the only way to off the little buggers was to provide them with a pesticide powder dust bath. And that involved me donning a mask and gloves, pouring some of the powder into a plastic garbage bag, and then picking up a chicken and wrapping her in the bag – with her head sticking out. A good shake and the pesticide powder was well applied to her feathers. I managed to emerge from the process with only a few scratches and a new-found respect for just how quickly and powerfully a hen can bring her beak and feet together to inflict pain on one’s hand.

Minnie is a little Silkie hen. Silkies are known for their fluffy plumage. Minnie is an almost always elegant little chicken. Except, of course, when she’s enjoying the benefits of a dirt bath. Chickens dig their own outdoor spa-bowls in the ground and then use the loose dirt and dust to clean their feathers of any unwelcome bugs. When Minnie emerges from her dirt bath she’s a surreal mix of earth tones, bright white plumage, and her super-chicken blue earlobes. No, really, Minnie has blue earlobes. She’s a super chicken. And a supermom.

Minnie is the surrogate mom of Becel.

Becel is a hen raised from an egg by Minnie. Minnie went broody and we provided her with three fertilized eggs from our friends Jacques & Brigitte’s chicken coop. Minnie was absolutely dedicated to those eggs. She sat on them day and night for nearly a month – climbing off her eggs only long enough to eat, drink and poop. All of which she accomplished in a short break every day. Only one of the eggs hatched and Becel (the colour of margarine)  was born. She climbed under Minnie and slept beneath her Mom’s tummy until she eventually graduated to sleeping beneath one of her wings. Becel grew quickly and soon dwarfed her mom but she was always seeking comfort and protection by trying to tuck in under Minnie’s wings. That’s Becel on the far right in the picture below taken in their winter quarters – the newly renovated and insulated shed/chicken coop.

This piece is titled ‘Chicken humour’ because of a peculiar incident which occurred earlier this week as I worked inside the coop to spruce it up, rake through the shavings, shovel out the poop, refill their water tank (heated), and change their heat lamp for a new bulb. Normally the ladies are quite content to explore the shed while I work in the coop. I’ll leave the outside door open and they stand on the sill contemplating the snow and the ice outside but for whatever reason are not tempted to hop down and explore the frozen landscape. This time however the hens took turns climbing onto the toes of my huge Sorel boots and riding them around the coop while I worked. So I got my chores done amid a raucous display of cackling, clucking and wing flapping. It was very silly. Right out of a Monty Python skit. Walk this way, I said to myself as I flapped my arms like wings and wandered about with a chicken on each boot top. They didn’t leave any poop as a deposit so I’m guessing it was all just a bit of chicken humour among friends. I feel honoured.

Life in the country.. with chickens.

*PS. Once you’ve eaten a farm-fresh egg there’s no going back to the egg-like objects in those cartons in the supermarket. Wow. The taste is amazing and your scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, sunny-sides-up, hard-boiled, chopped egg sandwiches, omelettes, quiches, and french toast will never be the same. I’ll let you know when we’ve got a few more hens in ‘the house’ and we’re ready to sell some of our eggs down at the end of our drive.

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