It’s been three-quarters of a year since we brought our three chicks home from Livingscape in a shoebox—just nine months since they lived their days and nights under a heat lamp, filling the garage with the tiniest down feathers and cheep-cheep-cheeping their hearts out. When they were weeks old, they liked to eat broccoli florets best, and were very terrified of being picked up and held.
They’ve made a permanent move from the garage, of course; Our Lady of the Circular Causality Dilemma sits in one corner of our backyard and the chickens have the run of the place all day long. They make good use of our small city plot, digging and scratching for all manner of small, delicious things in the dirt. Until the beginning of autumn, all three chickens—Trotsky (formerly known as Sister Who We Don’t Know What Her Name Is Yet), Sister Jezebel Turgenev, and The Edge—were laying an egg just about every day. Since October or so, it’s just been Trotsky, the Rhode Island Red. Until yesterday, we hadn’t bought eggs since August, when The Edge laid the very first one.
While the novelty of having three hens in the backyard has worn off, I still find their presence tremendously satisfying. Like any creature, each one has her habits. Having watched them all these months, I can tell you that Trostsky is the dominant hen and Sister Jezebel is on the lowest social rung. The Edge is the least aggressive. She is the last to arrive at the gate when I come with stale bread and veggie trimmings, but she will always get her share. Trotsky is the loudest and most vocal these days, singin’ and squawkin’ in the mornings when she lays her daily egg in the nest she’s made in the far corner of the yard, right next to the coiled green garden hose.
We’ve had rats this year. The Earth Machine we got from Metro first attracted them, and they stayed on when they discovered chicken feed and table scraps. Sometimes I tell myself that we have chickens and a compost pile because we are not 100% efficient and we use both to absorb and make use of leftovers from the house. I tell myself that we have rats now because the chickens aren’t at 100% either, inevitably leaving some nibbles behind for the backyard rodents. My feelings towards the rats change often. This week, perhaps in the spirit of Christmas, I am taking a break from wishing them dead.
We’ve had possums, too—or at least one possum, who caused quite a clatter a few weeks ago, just past midnight. After shooing the creature out of the yard and carrying the frightened hens through the dark and back to their coop, we determined that the possum must have been just passing through and curious about the hens and their food. In a city where chickens are regularly lost to raccoons and such, I count myself very lucky that all three of mine have made it thus far unharmed.
Chickens, I have learned recently, do not enjoy being cold. On the first day of this crazy snowstorm, when the flakes were small and the wind was fierce, I found my hens underneath the back porch, hopping from one foot to the other and making low, accusatory clucks. As the snow piled up around Our Lady of the Circular Causality Dilemma, the chickens grew increasingly bothered by the frozen world. They did not, as far as I know, venture beyond the shelter of the porch for more than a week. Their appetites for corn and fresh vegetables grew and, after four days of very cold weather, Trotsky finally stopped laying. Their water froze every day and every night; they huddled close together on their roost underneath a sixty-watt lightbulb we rigged up with a heavy duty extension cord that runs out the kitchen door. Uncomfortable and unaccustomed though they were, The Edge and her sisters were fine—inconvenienced more than anything.
Today the weather outside seems to be improving. The ice and snow began to thaw last night with drip and a trickle, and today all three hens are moving about in their full range, though no doubt with very cold feet. Judging by the racket heard during breakfast (Trostky’s usual egg-laying hour), I’d guess that there’s even an egg to be collected out there, when I get around to pulling my boots on and trudging through the slush.