Chickening Out


Each year for the past four years I’ve had a house-sitting gig at the home of a colleague’s parents.  Last year they added taking care of six chickens to the roster of duties, and though I was perhaps hesitant at first, I’ve seriously grown to love these birds and look forward to “sitting.”

My project for the week suddenly manifested on Sunday night when a wet snow storm accumulated enough to make the net over the chickens’ outdoor enclosure collapse.  Subsequently, the net froze to the ground under an inch and a half of ice.  It’s taken me all week and a combination of shoveling, kicking, scraping, and an elaborate process of pouring hot water on particularly stubborn patches of ice to get the net back up.  I was finally left with the net free from the ground, but with a number of holes in it.  A staple gun and some garbage bag twist-ums solved the problem (at least temporarily) and got the mesh back up over the enclosure so I can leave “the girls” outside without worrying about large birds of prey swooping in and carrying off one of them.

In a way this fear of one of my feathered friends becoming some eagle-baby’s McNuggets got me interacting with them more than I might have.  Armed with a technique for luring them back into the hen house, I got bold and let them wander around the yard for awhile.  Not all of them took me up on the offer to go scratching around the edge of the driveway, but frankly, the four of them wandering around on their own scared me into “mother mode” enough as it was.  It took a trail of yogurt and grapes (which they love) to corral the troops back into their enclosure, but they came quickly, like properly mannered chickens, when called.

I marvel at how curious and intelligent the chickens are.  Last year, when I brought my camera into their pen to snap photos of them, they were captivated by this black machine that clicks at them, not unlike the sounds they make amongst themselves.  Whether lost in the visual complexity of the camera lens or mesmerized by their reflection in the glass, I can’t say for sure, but they seemed to want to understand every piece of this odd contraption.  It takes them a few days each year to warm up to my intrusion into their routines, but by mid-week, they cluck with anticipation as they hear my voice approaching the hen house.

Best of all, these chickens are happy and thus, they lay eggs.  Lots and lots of eggs.  This year there are seven of them and five to six lay each day.  For a solo house-sitter, this means that I spend most of the week figuring out how many ways I can consume an egg.  My favorite is the old standard: scrambled.  I don’t use any milk and just a bit of butter, and the eggs come out lighter and fluffier than any I’ve ever had.  Personally, I suspect the amount of yogurt the girls consume has something to do with this.  Fresh eggs are really astounding.

In the evenings I’ve been watching the 1970’s British sitcom, “Good Neighbors,” about a suburban couple who give up their white collar jobs and attempt to live off their land.  Naturally, they live next to the stereotype of the posh, conservative, British elite, and the response of the neighbors is where all the hilarity lies.  I confess I’ve had fantasies about building my own chicken coop in the parking lot behind my building.  Not likely to happen, but the idea of fresh eggs keeps the idea alive in my mind.

Tomorrow I head back home.  I miss my cat, my bed, and yes, my roommate.  For sure, though, a few eggs will be making the journey with me.

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