How can a man be humble when he's got a cock that looks this good?
That's dear Vincent, king of the roost, cock o'the walk. Proud as Punch and meaner than a three-eyed water moccasin. Yes, the life of a hobby farmer is filled with old, unused terms and sayings that come from the bayous. Isn't he a handsome cuss, though?
I've come to like the chickens a lot, I'll admit it. When the idea was first breached, when we had a cage full of day-old peepers, when the money seemed to be flowing like red red krovvy from a freshly-opened artery I held my peace. My only previous experience with chickens involved bare feet, a back yard and an unfortunate but very memorable encounter with a rather massive chicken turd. Know how pleasurable squishing mud between your bare toes can be? Not so with a chicken turd. 'Nuff said.
So now, six months into chicken ranching, I have to say I've relaxed that original hatred. Just a bit. Not only are the eggs really good and now very plentiful but the birds themselves are interesting, and not as disgusting as I first feared. Being raised in the country I'm no stranger to animal waste and the smells that always come with having animals in large quantities. Cow manure was a constant background odor and presence in my childhood, and is equated in my mind with warm summer days and a sort of earthy goodness. Horses? Sweet smells of large animals and hay, tremendous warmth and strength. Animals in general, the smells of living creatures and sweet feed and hay and dirt are good things, speak to me of health and life and vitality. Cats and dogs and all variety of critters speckle my childhood and adult years, filling those times with good memories, and now chickens are added to the roster under the "Good" column.
A few weekends ago I wandered out to the coop with Mrs. Chicken Rancher to take a few photos, to see how the egg production was going (up to 10 a day now on average) and to help out where I could. I ended up spending almost an hour in the coop, squatting in the fresh pine shavings watching and listening to the girls wander around, making their whole range of trills and purrs and clucks and noises. Smelling the warm smell of animals, and the sweet smells of feed and the hay lining their nest boxes. Feeling the gentle tug as one of the girls tried to eat a bootlace. Brushing my fingers across their feathered backs and under their necks, surprised at the softness and the intricate way each and every feather fits, making of the whole a seamless, efficient design.
(One of the girls on a nest. I was holding the camera at a strange angle so I could capture all of her tail.)
There's something about watching animals go about the business of living their lives that appeals to me, sort of like watching a garden grow well, only faster and with more pecking order enforced. Watching one of the hens get off the nest and touching the warm tan eggs was an experience. Seeing the new girls settle in with the established flock (we were given six more hens from a friend) was interesting, and finding out that the upset wasn't nearly as big as we feared was a pleasant surprise. Learning that the hens are perfectly willing to share a nest with others, as many as three or four different birds each using the same nest made me realise just how social birds can actually be.
(Two of the new hens playing mirror image. Their bodies look a little misshapen because the previous owner had cropped their wings.)
It's been quite an experience. I never knew chickens would eat, much less enjoy pasta. Never knew that chickens loved fresh grass as part of their diet. I'd never before had a chicken sitting on my arm to realise that their feet, as scaly and vile as they might look are surprisingly, comfortably warm. The fresh eggs on Sunday mornings with breakfast are a very welcome addition, and while we're not saving a gazillion dollars on grocery bills with them there is always the joy that comes of sharing with friends and family, sharing something that you work hard for.
Plus it's hard not to get a good photograph even on a cloudy day when you're working with a bird decorated in primary colours!
Now if only I could do something about the poo.