Our flock began last spring as six little chicks in a cardboard box in the living room. They graduated to larger and larger boxes and finally, when the weather was warm enough, to the handsome coop and pen that Mark, Jodi, Crystal and Will built under the crape myrtle tree in the back yard. Then came a dark, suspenseful week as the chicks made their way into puberty and suddenly a few rusty tentative cock-a-doodle-doos broke out. In the end Moussa, Pecky and Hobart proved to be roosters. Fortunately Jodi was able to find homes for all three of them plus Hildebart—Hildebart was not a rooster, but she and Hobart, both puffy, poodle-looking Silkies, had grown so close Jodi didn’t want to separate them. That left just Mayflower and Rad until the second generation, all old enough to be for-sure hens, arrived.
The hens have been laying for a couple of months now. There aren’t quite enough eggs to feed the whole household (Stef, the last die-hard vegan in the house, wouldn’t eat them even if there were) but there are usually at least a few eggs available every day in the carton in the pantry. The coop design includes a little flap-down door that opens directly into the nesting boxes, so it’s easy to collect whatever might be there; sometimes when I go out in the early morning to let the chickens out of their coop I find a still-warm egg in the box. Even better, Skye happened to open the door this weekend just as Jean was extruding out one of her large pale brown eggs. Big excitement!
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
Mayflower: Skye gave Mayflower her name when she was a fluffy chick under a heat lamp in the living room, but now Skye thinks that feisty little Mayflower—she’s one of our three bantams—should be renamed “Cocky” because she’s always itching for a fight. It’s typical of Mayflower that when a hawk swooped down in the yard a few months ago all the other chickens ran through holes in the fence, but Mayflower tried to hold her ground. (She couldn’t: the hawk beat her up pretty seriously around the face, but fortunately Crystal heard the commotion and intervened before permanent damage was done). Mayflower was one of the six original chicks; the bushy little tufts of feathers where her cheeks would be if she had cheeks, and her small blue-green eggs indicate that she is an Ameraucana, or at least has a lot of Ameraucana in her.
Rad: Rad is our other bantam Ameraucana; Crystal chose the name because she had always wanted an animal named Rad. Like Mayflower, she lays small blue-green eggs, but unlike Mayflower she’s gentle, sociable and even—I have this on Skye’s authority—cuddly. She’s silvery gray with cheek tufts that are even more pronounced than Mayflower’s.
Cutie Queen: Our third bantam, Cutie Queen is the mystery bird of the flock, a loner who often seems to have a lot on her mind. She’s the hardest to catch, also the last to be herded into the pen, and the chicken who seems most fond of heights. Skye originally named her Cutie Pie, but then considered that the word “pie” might have uncomfortable associations for a chicken. Cutie Queen is one of the later arrivals—she came nearly full grown, or at least full grown enough for us to be sure she was a hen. She tends more towards the Auracana, with a stumpy tail and almost nonexistent tufts; her eggs are pale pink.
The Coucou: The Coucou Maran is the only chicken who doesn’t have a name—she’s Jodi’s to name, but Jodi says that after having to give up Hobart and Hildebart, she’s superstitious about naming another chicken. Somehow it suits the magisterial and exotic Coucou to have no name. Handsomely feathered in black and gold, she’s quite clearly the dominant chicken—she chases ‘gota the cat, and sometimes she even chases us. If she were a true Maran she would lay deep chocolate brown eggs, but she must have some Auracauna in her because her eggs come out a muted green color that Mark calls “mint chocolate.”
Harriet: Harriet and Jean, both Barred Rocks, look very similar but you can recognize Harriet by her pale white legs. She may or may not be the biggest chicken in the flock—some people say that the Coucou is bigger, but Skye says that Harriet is wider than Mark’s head and therefore larger than all the other chickens. Harriet is certainly the most enthusiastic eater, the first to investigate when someone scatters some wheatberries or a handful of kale on the ground. Will named Harriet for his grandmother; it happens that Harriet is Skye’s grandmother’s name too. (“Actually,” Skye says “Harriet’s a very common name for grandmas,”) One of the most vocal chickens, Harriet is a runner and a squawker with a grating voice that sounds like a perpetual sore throat. She and Jean lay brown eggs that look the most like what you’d find at the grocery store.
Jean: We all learned something the other night at house dinner when I was interviewing the housemates about the chickens. “Jean can swim,” Skye said. “How do you know?” we all asked. “Well,” Skye said, “I was giving the chickens a flying test to make sure they could fly in case a hawk came, and Jean kind of slipped and went into the pond.” Consternation! The pond is hardly even that—a small former fishpond that we use mostly to grow duckweed, a good source of protein for the chickens—but still…. “She swam!” Skye said defensively. “A quarter of the way across the pond! She even did it twice.” Twice! More consternation. Skye explained. “I was telling Lily about it”—Lily is Skye’s six-year-old friend–“and she wanted to see it too, so she threw Jean into the pond and Jean swam. She likes it.” I think after the discussion that followed Skye is pretty clear now that Jean’s aquatic career is over. “Her legs sort of look like a duck’s,” Skye said as a parting shot, but I think even she recognized the weakness of the argument. It is true that Jean’s legs are yellow, but that’s about it as far as her duckiness goes. I named Jean for my dear former mother-in-law who died this past August. I think she would have enjoyed the honor.