Sam takes his job seriously. He is our flockster, in charge of chickens. The chickens provide affection, drama, intrigue, and comic relief. Sam has conditioned them to enjoy petting and holding and, in the case of the Silkies, to tolerate being stuffed up his shirt to peek out at under his chin.
Feeding and watering them is a team effort, but Sam spearheads the latest task: egg collection. Our hens have been earning their keep this summer by providing hours of entertainment for our kids. Now, they’ve added to their job description. Blue-green and light brown eggs have begun to appear in our freshly hay-bedded nesting boxes. Mostly no longer than my pinky, these are eggs from teenagers, just practicing for adulthood.
The chickens roam within an electro-net fence during the day, scratching and rolling upside-down for dust baths. They siesta in the shade of two trees in their enclosure. At dusk, they meander into their moveable chicken tractor, roosting safely for the night.
Ever since we ate the last roosters for supper, life has been peaceful among our young hens. It was my fault that any roosters remained beyond chicken butchering day. I let romantic notions override my general rule: No intact, non-human male animals on the property. The roosters were beginning to crow, which added to the farm ambiance. They were becoming handsome, especially the largest one.
We could just keep one of the five roosters, I thought. One rooster would surely settle into his role and act sensibly. He might even help to protect the hens. Out loud, I accidentally said, “We could name that big guy Fezzik.”
There. When butchering day came, we had to carefully avoid Fezzik, named for the endearing giant in The Princess Bride, and therefore special. Within a few weeks, though, Fezzik was plucking our hens’ back feathers and dragging them around by the neck. This behavior took the shine right off him. I cannot abide a bully.
Neither can Sam. He spent hours stalking around after Fezzik, chasing him away from the hens, sometimes shaking his fist. One day, after hearing a hen yell, but not seeing which one had been attacked, Sam rushed me over to examine each hen, searching for the victim. He brought them to me, one by one, until I found a broken, bleeding neck feather. More fist shaking and angry reprimands ensued.
Then we switched tactics. We thanked Fezzik for growing so large, then excused him from the flock. We invited the neighbors that day and grilled the freshest, best-tasting chicken we’d ever had. The next day, we relished new, contented sounds from the chicken yard—croons and clucks, without the terrified squawking.
Few delights compare with a flock of cared-for animals making happy noises while running towards you. For a sensitive, five-year-old boy—squatting to receive his flock in open arms—this moment signals acceptance. It affirms his much-practiced gentle touch and soft voice. These skittish creatures have learned to trust him. He feels the strength that comes in tenderness, the power to draw an animal towards you because you are kind.