Some years ago we spent a month in one of what could be one of France’s most beautiful rental homes, unfortunately in what might be the crappiest village in southern France. The townsfolk were surly, resentful and often hateful. The best food in town came off a pizza truck. The nearest “real” grocery, a few villages over, was a pit of industrial foodstuffs and meat so unappetizing it actually made Michelle cry. But every morning we’d be awakened from our line-dried antique linen sheets by the sound of roosters crowing. That lovely feeling helped Michelle decide we had to have chickens, and roosters, when we came home.
So we ordered a cute British chicken house, even though we weren’t sure where to obtain inhabitants for it. Michelle’s dad noticed somebody down the road had chickens, and (unlike Michelle or Steve) he had no problem knocking on the door of a total stranger to ask if we could take some off his hands. In short order we had a box containing four Araucana hens and a rooster. We were warned that the rooster was mean, but we didn’t quite realize that meant we couldn’t go into the yard without a broom or a big stick to beat him away. (When that rooster eventually failed to come home one day, someone suggested that perhaps the hens had arranged for him to be done in.)
The following winter, after most of the original five had succumbed to death by raccoon, coyote and just plain stupidity, we ordered day-old chicks from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. An excited 6 a.m. call from our local post office worker let us know the shoebox-sized container with its 25 or so balls of cuteness was ready to be picked up. That bunch started out in the upstairs bathroom, and ended up being kept there much longer than we expected—chirping, pooping, and spreading feather dust as their cardboard container kept growing and growing.
While the members of our first flock (even the attack rooster) were treated much like pets, the advent of dozens of chickens with multiple battling roosters pushed Steve into playing “real farmer” and turning some of them into food. It helped that the birds had “descriptors” rather than “names” (the New Hampshire Red, still with us, called “Ginger” and a huge rooster called “Gargantua”). The only close call with familiarity was our Speckled Sussexes, dubbed “the Bobs” by our neighbor’s kids. So, with the help of Michelle’s father, Steve learned how to kill, clean and pluck poultry. Michelle however, took a more tenderhearted approach to the birds, refusing to eat the first ones Steve killed (though she finally did use the stock made from their roasted carcasses). Even now Michelle will not help with or even watch the killing, but she has finally managed to eat them.
Now we find ourselves wishing that a few of our current flock would be grabbed by a coyote or a fox while pooping on the front porch or making a mess of the flower beds—but while we’re thinking we could use a little reduction, we don’t want to find ourselves completely chicken-free. These strange reptiles with feathers have become a huge part of our lives. Obnoxious as they can be, it is always fun to see what the chickens are doing. Plus, we’re happy we can give them good lives before they wind up in our stock pot. And most of all, we can’t imagine living without dozens of wonderful fresh eggs in the refrigerator.