The ICU (Intensive Chicken Unit)

Our daughter the nurse lies on the couch, it’s her day off and she’s visiting, reading tour books of France, and pondering her future.  Travel, moving in with her boyfriend, horseback riding lessons.  She is exhausted.  No kids for her, she says.  And I am understanding.  It’s me who wants babies, but baby chicks will do.  Chicks grow so fast and are so cute.

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The Bearded One is with me on this.  I want to go through the cycles, the birth and life and death.

I rest my almost fifty-seven-year-old feet on the foot massager next to my rocker.  I’m reading a pile of chicken magazines from 2009.  The Bearded One’s folks bought us a Backyard Poultry subscription.  All of a sudden they are full of gold.

I tell my daughter the story of Leah, our 2-year-old Rhode Island Red hen who survived raccoon wounds to her head and neck two weeks ago.  She spent one day in the cat carrier here in our small, dark, warm living room –

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– the ICU (Intensive Chicken Unit), we laugh — and almost two weeks in the hoophouse and backyard away from Stevie and Maybelline who were prone to peck her scabs.  On Saturday morning, the day of the big wind storm, she insisted on returning to the flock.

“She stood by the gate and looked at me,” I say.  “She was going back up there, whether I took her or not.”

“AMA,” says the nurse.  “Leaving Against Medical Advice.”

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We listen to the Bearded One on the other side of the door hammering the last strips of hardware cloth onto the surface of the new deck.

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The post-Halloween storm blew all the leaves out of the trees and everything is covered in inches of cedar needles.

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I’m researching dual-purpose chicken farming — raising chickens that are both good layers and fryers, like Rhode Island Reds, and eating the meat as well as the eggs.  No more helpless, hyper-bred Cornish, which were literally sitting ducks for the weasels this year.

“We’ll get a rooster!” I say. “The new neighbors have one, so it’s okay with them.  We’ll actually hatch baby chicks and we’ll harvest the young roosters and the weak layers.”

“More of a real farm life,” she says, looking up from a map of France and reaching for her tea cup on the rug beside the couch.

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“I guess so,” I say.  I like the sound of that.  Feels good.  “We’ll get a big scalding pot and a make a killing cone.”  We’ve done this so many times at the neighbors with the rented equipment and big flocks of Cornish as well as turkeys.  We’re at ease with the killing and butchering.  I know we can handle one or two birds at a time.

“Would you have eaten Leah if she’d died?”

It’s a good question, I say.  No.  But just because of the psychology.  She’s named for one of His Majesty’s ex-girlfriends, one who has actually come out and visited the farmlet.  I won’t attach to the next chickens like pets.  I believe I can do this.

“What is this in my tea?” the nurse says suddenly.  “Oh, look, I see it.  It tastes like a tree.  It’s a piece of cedar needle.”

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We’re both laughing when the Bearded One blows in.  “Hello,” I shiver and say to him, as he crosses the living room toward the front door, “Could we have a fire tonight?”  I ham it up a bit.  I rub my arms and huddle into my scarf.  “It will be in the low 40s,” I say.  “And it’s soooo dark and wet.”

“You don’t need to sell me,” he says, and warms me with his smile.  “You had me at hello.”

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17 responses to “The ICU (Intensive Chicken Unit)

  1. Your stories are like a slice of warm banana bread, thanks.

  2. I was doing alright till I got to the “we’ll get a rooster!” part…you know how the E.P. had to step in and intervene about me cutting my hair? You know how he thought that he was doing me a favour because I needed to know the truth of the matter and “guys really DO care?” well “DON’T GET A ROOSTER…NO NO NO NO DON’T GET A ROOSTER” unless you are a masochist. I now have 5 and probably another 4 on the offing (they are showing signs of being roosterescent). Yin is the king of the roost, his son (whom I haven’t named because he is earmarked for the nether world) heads up the pack and he is ONLY tolerated because Yin can’t watch all of the girls all of the time…next we have the un-named roosters brother who has to live in the outside enclosure because he is a bit wonky after being almost killed by his dad and brother but he has 3 hens with chicks to fuss over at the moment, then we have little Randy Andy who has an insatiable sexual appetite and who predated our duck who has now gone clucky and who is sitting on unfertile eggs but she is also sitting on some cuckoo chook eggs so we are letting her hatch them out and lastly we have a most lovely little man who is our only blue Wyandotte rooster. He spends his days hiding inside the coop sitting near the nesting boxes with the cluckies because he doesn’t want to be killed. Clever little man who is probably gay because he hasn’t felt the need to waylay any hens and he is older than Randy Andy…sigh…I guess if your chooks are all enclosed you should be able to manage them nicely but ours are all over the place, clucky everywhere and have gone decidedly feral. Our pet food lady has just told us that she might have some turkeys and guinea fowl for us if we would like some so heck why not?! The more the merrier. The turkeys can live in the trees, the guinea fowl will probably move to Frank’s and I might just say “to heck with it!” and open a petting zoo for kids. “If you can catch a chook, a cat, a turkey, a guinea fowl, a possum, a wallaby, a rabbit, an echidna, a potoroo…you can keep it!” Should be worth a fiver entrance fee and that will pay for my early admission to the mental facility in town ;). By the way, I LOVE reading about your daily love story with the E.P. (aka B.O.) it warms the cockles of my heart. Under all of this tough Aussie “Sheila-ness” beats the heart of an old romantic and I can completely appreciate you two and your fit :)

    • LOL! So, Fran, do you have too many roosters, or what??! I must say that I LOVE the sound of your gay rooster, though. “…sitting near the nesting boxes with the cluckies because he doesn’t want to be killed.” lol We will have ONE rooster and he will be in the upper and lower pasture during the days and coop at night. If he is a rouge rooster (for any reason) we will dispatch him. And as your sister Cathy points out below, as we will be eating the offspring, it won’t matter if roosters are born. We will catch them! Watch this space, Fran my Friend. Thanks for your loving advice, and for the kudos on sharing our love. I feel it from you and Steve, too. I love what you two create together. :)

  3. I end your post with a tender chuckle and then read narf77’s comment/post and rofl! Wiping tears from my eyes – between the two of you my morning is made!

    I so love your love story, interspersed among the vagaries and cruelties of real life with real animals it shines like a little beacon of hope!

    Get chickens, get roosters, get puppies – surround yourself with babies – that’s what I would do if I could and I’m living my country dream vicariously through you so please, please, please, get something :-)

  4. I have to agree with Fran on the rooster buying Christi, but if your going to be eating the offspring, it shouldn’t matter what sort of sexed chickens are born :D I bet the smell of lovely cedar is blowing through your house now. Do you have one of those leaf sucker/blowers that can also mulch the leaves? That might be helpful to remove the swathes of needles. I’m so glad Leah survived the racoons attack. I don’t understand why hens can become so carnivorous/cannibalistic with the pecking. Must be from way back when they were (some would say still are!) velociraptors :D

    • Velociraptors! I had to look that up and by jove, I think you’ve got it. Something about the sight of blood or a scab and they go dinosaur.

      And a blower doesn’t work so well on our deck (although the B.O. wishes it would) because those cedar needles stick into and under the wire mesh on the surface. Back to the broom.

      I’m relieved about Leah, too. She was really beat up by that raccoon..and on her neck and head. She was “wonky” — as Fran so beautifully put it about one of her roosters — for many days. I’m amazed at how both Sweet Tart (R.I.P.) and Leah recovered from their ravaging wounds. Chickens must have strong stem cells. :)

  5. Hi Christi, I’m piggy backing on from Narf7 (aka Fran). Sorry Fran, hope I wasn’t too heavy :). What a lovely post. I love the ending, it made me all sentimental. I’m currently looking after my son who had a knee reconstruction and it has been 2 weeks since I hugged my man. I’m missing him so much. He is 8 hours away, working diligently. It is just too far for either of us to have a weekend visit. It will be another week and a half before I finally get back home. So thank you for such a lovely post x

  6. Aww you guys are so cute! But I’m not convinced that you can handle not keeping any of the baby chicks as pets. Maybe just one?

  7. I’m with Clay and the warm banana bread. I enjoy your stories on every level. I love the homeyness of the farmlet. It sounds like the place to be. ;-)
    Watch for wayward branches during this stormy, windy week!

  8. Christine Widman

    No doubt about it. After seeing this new photo of determined, ready to get back to the flock, quite beautiful Leah, I know you are a chicken whisperer.
    Tell the Bearded One – lololololol about the AMA drawing!!
    Here it’s getting chilly at night too. Low’s in the low 50’s!
    I remember my Uncle Jim’s rooster. As kids, we would have to check out the yard before we went outside. If the rooster was around, he’d run to peck us! A pretty mean dude. After a couple of months, I think we may have had rooster for dinner as I never saw a rooster on the farm again.
    So good luck with rooster testosterone.
    Hugs!
    C

    • Roosters can be very aggressive and horrible, but we won’t have any like that. At least for long. :) I imagine after that childhood experience that you aren’t too fond of roosters, eh, Christine? My mother is still afraid of cows because one chased her when she was young. Imprinted in the amygdala! Love you.

  9. Well, Christi, anytime my heart needs warming, I know where to go! You keep it real, lots of sentiment without being superficially sentimental. Living in the country doesn’t leave much room for the Disney ‘cute’ approach to life.

    You share good times and bad, but in the end you find a way through the inevitable challenges and heartaches, leaving me unsure if the tears in my eyes are from empathy or from laughing . . .

    I love the cycles, too, hard or not. And I see myself in Leah. I always listen to medical advice (but rarely seek it LOL), then act AMA. Works well for me . . .

    Yes, do get some babies; human, avian, feline or canine. Don’t forget equine and goat (can’t remember the correct word for goat – not caprine, surely? Go ahead, laugh; I am and it serves me right!) I have omitted porcine, but whatever moves you . . .

    If a puppy, I’m sure you know I’m totally unselfish when I vote for a big Collie or even a Border Collie. (don’t look at the photo of my own beloved big Collie . . .)

    • Caprine sounds good to me! :) And THANK YOU for this lovely lovely comment. My heart is warmed now, too. And not because we got a puppy last Friday. Eeeeee! I’ll tell all about him in this week’s blog, but I’ll say this for now — he’s a Beagle! lol

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