In Which I Become a Crazy Chicken Lady

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We failed, somehow, to place the order for chicks back in February, despite poring over a hatchery website and choosing breeds and having credit card in hand. It was close to midnight, so we must’ve missed an important step, like Submit Order.

The week before the chicks we thought we ordered were due to arrive, we began to wonder why we’d heard nothing from the hatchery. A quick phone call confirmed that no chicks were in the mail. We hatched Plan B.

Over the course of ten days, I haunted our town’s feed/hardware stores, and collected five different breeds of chicks that will grow into laying hens. We built them a brooder, which now glows under a heat lamp in our kitchen. To my delight, the brooder is large enough for me to sit cross-legged, slowly reaching out a fingertip to stroke the chicks’ nearly too-soft-to-feel backs, which they tolerate when they’re sleepy.

Plan B created some mismatch in age, but the chicks have surprised me by all getting along, despite the largest being at least ten times bigger than the smallest. Our flock will have mostly large-bodied, cold-hardy, sensible birds, with the exception of two silkie chickens, which I bought on a whim, who will look like walking feather dusters.

Here they were, just a couple of days old, accompanied by photos of each breed in adulthood.

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We kept Buff Orpingtons in Georgia and loved their friendly temperaments and exceedingly fluffy butts. They’re good layers of light brown eggs.



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Ameraucana chickens lay green and blue eggs and remind me of baby quail, so I couldn’t resist them. They come in various colors, so I have no idea exactly how these will look as adults. Maybe like this one.



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Our Silver-laced Wyandotte chicks seem to be the most docile of the bunch so far. They become beautiful adults, lay brown eggs, and might give the Buff Orpingtons considerable competition in the fluffy butt category.




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JerseyGiantApparently, people love their Black Jersey Giants, who tend to be very mellow, thank goodness, because adult hens weigh a hefty 9 to 11 pounds. They lay large brown eggs and look neat.




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GraySilkie, Sundown Silkies


I cannot be held responsible for purchasing these creatures. Anyone could’ve fallen victim to their tiny topknots and feathered legs. I realize that they will be ridiculous, but it just makes me like them more. I am helpless.


Towards The Yearning Noise

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When I open my car door, the drive from work back to the farm melts away as amphibian voices surround me. I forget I-87 to I-90 to I-88 to US 20. Behind me, the dead-on-arrival dog has returned home. The four euthanized cats, each with their own wounds, may rest peacefully. The injured and sick and sicker and healing dogs, tucked into their hospital beds, will be tended overnight. Here, the evening light rouses the frogs.

I yank off my scrubs and pull on old jeans. My new rubber boots already feel like home on my feet. I often stay late at the emergency clinic, and in winter’s short days I never arrived home in the light. Tonight, I am home on time; the daylight is expanding like your ribcage on a slow inhale. Tonight, we are skipping bathtime and walking together towards the yearning noise.

Beyond our soon-to-be garden, we caress the downy grey willow buds. Stella swoons over them, so we pick her a fat fuzzy catkin, and she carries it for an hour, then keeps it for days beside her pillow.

Holding their high notes, spring peepers call us in waves. Just an inch and a half long, they introduce spring, blowing translucent bubbles at their throats then releasing their insistent, entrancing sound. Lower on the scale, wood frogs chuckle their deep quacking calls. We can picture their dark bandit masks over light mustache markings, although they remain hidden.

Working outside a few evenings later, we will watch a great blue heron parachute into our wetland, then two wood ducks splash down. We’ll hear a ruffed grouse thumping its wings, deep beats that we feel in our own chests. I’ll walk out under fierce stars one night—with Venus burning strong above the red Mars—and pause as two barred owls ask each other, “Who cooks for you?” Andrew will hustle the kids out the next morning to hear a tom turkey’s self-important babble from the woods.

On this after-work evening, all four of us meander around the wetland, immersed in sound. Occasionally, we can pick out the thumb-on-a-comb call of chorus frogs, above the peepers’ din. Sam leads us through and over patches of water, beyond the wetland’s outflow. At one point, he trips over a grass tuft. When I ask if he’s okay, he crows, “I’m great! Better than ever!”

I feel the same.

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How We Survive Early Spring

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Perhaps it’s the curve of their peach-colored bills or the slight narrow upturn of their eyes, smiling. Maybe it’s what Stella calls their “lellow fur” or their too-big feet. It definitely has something to do with their ludicrous wings, poking fuzzy and useless from their shoulders.

Whatever it is, I succumbed to it, and we now have six ducklings living in our kitchen.

2015-03-31 17.21.27Usually, my resistance is strong. I repeat my mantra, “All babies are cute.” The second part of that mantra, “and then they grow up,” can remain unsaid while I walk away from the cute babies. Except on April 1, when I walked away with a box of ducklings, carried from the store by a jubilant Stella.

My head has been bursting with the South’s dogwoods, azaleas, and magnolias, but my eyes meet brown fields, brown trees, gray skies, and not a single blooming plant. The air has been cold and odorless. I’ve been battling a funk that sunk deeper as the snow shrank away. Winter dazzled me; spring feels bleak.

How do people buoy themselves until spring truly arrives here? We dabbled in one tactic, visiting a local saphouse for breakfast, leaving heavy with pancakes, sausage, and generous portions of maple syrup, but lighter for the rising sweetness of trees. When another joy of spring occurred to me, I knew we were in trouble.

“At least I didn’t buy bunnies, or lambs, or a puppy,” I pointed out. Andrew—who kindly encouraged my duckling pursuit, which I did premeditate by about a week—agreed that it could’ve been worse. Ducks are smaller than lambs, more useful than bunnies, and less work than a puppy, or so we figured. I did expect them to be messy, however, and have not been disappointed.

Ducks are completely uncivilized. In our kitchen, they slap around on pine shavings in their livestock trough, always cheerful on the verge of panic. Their heads snorkel into their waterer, which turns brown within five minutes of a refill. They poop prodigiously.

Every day, Sam weighs each one on a small gram scale, tracking their growth for his science fair project. He mostly loves watching them crane their necks and launch from the plastic bowl, but he diligently writes down the numbers.

We watch them thrashing exuberantly around our bathtub in several inches of tepid water, showing us how zealously ducks really do take to water. Then they cluster in hysterics while I scoop them into a towel to transfer back to clean shavings while I disinfect the bathtub.

Then those stinky little hoodlums hear our voices and tilt their heads, lifting one eye towards our faces and peeping, “sweet sweet,” and I’m glad they’re here, warming April.

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The First Animals of Our Barnyard

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First, we noticed small feline tracks in the snow around our cars, leading towards the barn. We soon spotted the large black cat, too long-haired to see how bony he might be after this cold winter. Skittish, he bolted if he even saw us peeking out the kitchen window. He seemed to appear and disappear.

Next came the wild turkeys, fat bodies clinging to the spindly sumac trees behind the barn as they pecked the furry red sumac tufts. The toms proudly dangled their beards from their chests. One turkey carried a clump of burdock velcroed to its feathers. We followed turkey tracks right around the front of the barn, and over the largest drift near the old milkhouse.

One evening since snowmelt, we watched a possum saunter up our driveway, looking stoned. “Do they always walk like that?” I asked Andrew, laughing.

“Maybe he’s just waking up from hibernation,” he guessed.

The possum hunch-waddled straight into our barn. I wondered if he’d encounter the cat.

Last week, a bunny appeared. This was not a wild bunny wearing various shades of brown. We’ve seen those all winter, eating the red-berried thorn bush outside the guest bedroom window, ducking below the small deck at the side door, and trafficking under the loading dock that holds old trucks. But this bunny was white.

It just hopped out of our barn one morning, as if it had been there all along. Andrew walked out with an apple, sliced in half, spooking the bunny, and set the apple by the brick pile. The bunny emerged again; bunnies like apples.

We speculated—an escapee from the renting college student who kept rabbits in a camper until mid-December? A drive-by drop-off bunny, set free at our place by owners who were done with it? A stray bunny, busted free and gone feral?

Two days later, as the sun drew dusk down over the farm, Andrew and I stood at the bay window, facing away from the barns. A wild bunny hopped into view, visible crossing patches of snow, then hidden on the grass. Behind her came the white bunny, hard to see on the snow, but bright across the grass. He pursued her around the yard, casually, reminding me of Peter Rabbit going “lippity lippity” in Mr. McGregor’s garden.

That was the last we saw him, that symbol of frisky springtime fertility. I like to imagine that the white bunny continues to evade coyotes and chase wild lady bunnies. “I guess he moved on,” Andrew explained gently to Stella. “He was a traveling bunny.”

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