By Christine Tailer
I raised them ever so carefully, making sure that they never went hungry and always had enough to drink. Every evening I would sit beside them, talking gently and telling them of this and that.
I even put a framed photo of my face inside their temporary trough home, so that they would learn to recognize my face. Eventually, they were big enough to leave the trough and move outside to the chicken coop.
I snuck the young birds into the coop one evening after the older chickens had returned from a day of foraging and had settled in on their roots. The big birds hardly even looked up as the little ones peeped and clucked and eventually settled down in clean deep bedding on the coop floor.
The next morning, when I opened the coop door, they all flowed down the ramp in their feathered chicken excitement, ready to explore a new day. I sat nearby and watched. The small birds were hesitant at first, making their way down the ramp, pecking here and there, and then quickly returning to the safe confines of the coop. A few of the chicks made their uncertain way over to me, pecked at my hand, and then retreated to the coop.
As the days passed, they became more bold, and eventually, they seemed to know no bounds, at least within the confines of the upper field that surrounds our cabin.
The young chickens learned to visit the goats, easily getting through the goat-proof fence, so that they could peck up what little food the goats had spilled or missed. They flowed in their feathered river over to the rabbits and scratched for worms in the rich droppings under the rabbit cages.
They explored the edges of the woods, gobbling up bugs and whatever other chicken delights they encountered. And I am certain that they learned to wait for me to return home after a day of lawyering.
A typical late afternoon goes something like this. As I drive up the hill to the cabin, I can see the flock pecking around over by the windmill tower. I park in the gravel drive and get out of my car, and by the time I am walking up the front cabin steps, I know that I am about to be the victim of a chicken mugging.
They dash pell-mell toward me, stopping inches from my feet. Their feet pound across the cabin's wooden deck. It is hard to imagine that chicken footsteps could be so heavy. They block my way, clucking that they are half-starved and I had better do something about it. I barely make it inside to change into my farm clothes.
I can see through the side cabin window that they remain gathered on the deck. One particularly bold chicken has hopped up on the picnic table and looks at me, head cocked to the side as if to say "So how long does it take you to get changed, Christine?"
Back outside, they gather around my feet. The dogs stay back, shaking their heads. I walk through the flock to the side of the deck and toss some old bread, that I have crumbled in my hand, to the ground below.
The birds dive off the deck and peck up every last bit. If I did not know better, I would imagine that they had a vacuum cleaner. Not a speck is left behind.
The chickens slowly disperse. The dogs wander over, wondering if perhaps today is the day that the chickens left a crumb or two behind. No such luck.
I head back inside the cabin, having survived yet another chicken mugging. I think that perhaps the next time I raise chickens I will leave my picture tucked safely away.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.