The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Last Night November 18, 2013

I must remember that they’re just chickens. My ten year old boy has no room – or tolerance – for the sentiment I’m succumbing to now that the Amish farmer has finally found time for us in his schedule. The appointment came rather suddenly after months of setbacks, and perhaps just a teensy bit of stalling. Maybe I wasn’t exactly consciously stalling, but I suppose I may have dropped the ball a time or two when we might otherwise have gotten it done. But then again, we truly have been busy, and it takes more than a little planning to check this off the list. (Serendipity must be on one’s side as well.) But each time we get close, I do get a little wimpy about it all. I start taking photos of them, I make them endure enforced smooches, I look on at the marked gals in a mixture of love and nostalgia – for most of them have been here since the start of our adventure as chicken farmers (hence the current lack of egg production). We’ve been thru a lot together. The gals who are here today have survived half a dozen animal attacks. They’ve graduated from international shipping crate-as-coop to a legitimate, framed-in structure, and they’ve now seen some sixteen seasons. That’s a lotta happy living. Happy, happy birds they’ve always been. So for as much as I may anthropomorphize em and raise them to heights of character sophistication they’re probably far from ever achieving, and whatever the reality of their intelligence (or lack thereof), it can still be said that these particular girls have been with us for the whole ride. So saying goodbye, for me, at least, is just a little hard.

There won’t be much time for sentiment tomorrow. Mr. Shaw has no time for that. He’s a farmer. Got a dozen or more kids, half of whom work the line, and there’s a lot to do in one day. Calls me m’am, treats me kindly, and has my birds returned to me in tidy bags within a half an hour. Plus we’re doing another ‘chicken removal’ service for some friends and must arrive there super early to box up their girls too. I even wonder at the pure logistics of the operation; just how will we fit all these living birds into my car? Coming back they’re in bags, and they’ll fit in a cooler or two. But we must be able to fit these coolers as well as these boxes in the vehicle. Haven’t rehearsed it, so we have our fingers crossed. Ironically, I got a bunch of boxes from the grocery store today in which Thanksgiving turkeys had just arrived. Perfect. Each would carry four birds. Got some taller boxes at the wine store. Good for roosters. So we’re ready. Up at 5, a quick breakfast, then under early-morning dark it’s out to the coop where Elihu will pluck each bird off their roost, one by one, and check their vents to see if they’re currently in production or not. I tell ya, this kid’s a natural. No hesitation, plus pure confidence. And at this point, a good year’s experience sorting out the layers from the dead ends. Yeah, not sure I’d have the oomph to do all this without him. In this case he more than carries his own. Tomorrow he’s a true partner.

We both shut the birds in tonite. He indulged me. These days it’s not the event it was when he was younger. Some nights he’d be in the coop, smooching, petting, crooning and talking softly to his flock for a good hour before I could get him to come in. Now, what with homework and practicing and getting older and such, he runs out, does a quick head count, then shuts em up. I kinda miss the innocence of just a few months ago. ! But it’s all good. While I will miss the crazy, loud and goofy chicken population meandering all about the property, and the lovely little interjection of energy they provide here, I will also be greatly relieved to see my food bills cut by more than half, and to find far fewer fresh poops on my doorstep. And finally, the gals will get a break. Only one horny rooster around. And he’s getting old, too. You’re welcome, ladies.

So it’s goodnight, farewell and thank you to our first ever hatched, Jessie, our nods to twins Cora and Sophia, of course the new roos – including the bravest and most resilient rooster we’ve ever known, Julius Caesar (first-born of ’13) – and, last, but never least, my favorite: Shirley Nelson, our green egg-laying Araucana. She stopped laying months ago. She is still flighty, and has never let me pick her up without a fuss, but I just love her beard, and I just love her most curious habit of crawling underneath alpha rooster Bald Mountain as he stands in one place. She likes to sit underneath him, and he is most content to have her there. Never seen such a strange and cooperative arrangement before, and it is one more reason I’m  just a bit sad about seeing her go. Never got it on film, but I hope my brief description here will inspire long-lasting mental images thru which she may be ‘immortalized’. Elihu, knowing her to be one of the tiniest birds, is looking forward to trying out a buffalo-style chicken wing recipe on her, so at least she’ll be remembered (can one be ‘immortalized’ by simply being a meal?) for that. And the door. The back door on the coop has a diamond pattern in the glass. Elihu said it looked like it belonged in a house of someone named ‘Shirley Nelson’. And actually, he’s kinda right. First came the bird, then the door. And we still refer to it as the Shirley Nelson door. So, let her time come. She leaves behind a legacy, and maybe even a good new recipe for the book.

I need to get to sleep. My little farmer has been out for almost an hour. Five am will be here sooner than I’d like, and I gotta be on when I get up. (Plus I have a full day of school immediately after that adventure, and so does the kid.)

Thanks so much you dear girls and guys. You had probably the best lives that chickens could ever hope to have. Freedom, food, fresh air and the love of a boy and his mom. We appreciate your gift to our stomachs and to our growing bodies. Enjoy those cozy roosts one last night, and we’ll see you one last time in the morning.

Post Script: Shortly past five and the winds outside sound like a passing freight train. I look out the window for a quick coop check and see that the light is out. Wow. That almost never happens. (Likely the power line was pulled down by the weather.) A real-life metaphor for what’s shortly to come. Here we go…

 

One Response to “Last Night”

  1. Eric Says:

    Unfortunately, many things in life are harsh. You have certainly helped to soften the blow and increase the quality of the lives of your birds. When I read about the awful conditions of many “farm” animals, it is clear that you are like an angel to these chickens. As you wrote, you gave them a much better and more comfortable life than all too many other such creatures, so you have really done the best that you could have done.

    Your online journal continues to be quite well-written and compelling.

    Best wishes for you and your family during the upcoming winter. May the new year be even better.


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