Our chicken arrangements have not been harmonious since we first attempted to integrate new baby chicks into the flock. First, Fortunata nearly died, so Fortunata ended up in her own penthouse suite. We tried to sneak Fortunata back in with the next round of baby chicks, but that didn’t work. Next we corralled most of the bully chickens into the penthouse suite (redubbed the henitentiary). The bully chicken remaining in the main coop became a tyrant that laid few eggs at this free-reign opportunity, so we ate that bully chicken (so, long Scissor beak). The two bully chickens remained confined to their henitentiary, and the chickens in the main coop partied on. For a hilarious albeit short-lived time, Fortunata was even top chicken.
With our two coops, we lived in a truce-like state akin to North and South Korea where occasional hyperbolic clucks were fired into no-man’s land, but mostly they existed as separate entities despite their mutual ties of chickendom. Still, the time had come for the remaining bully chickens to make way (i.e., go to the crockpot—err, coop—in the sky) for the baby chicks. My husband hated raising baby chickens inside the house with as much vehemence as dictators have for democracy (except he’s a not a dictator and mostly managed to temper his odium into something more resembling long-suffering patience). So, we planned to raise the chicks in the small coop this year, which means we had to evict some bully-chicken convicts. We even bought a special butchering knife.
I’m somewhat squeamish when it comes to meat. I always have been. I’ve been a vegetarian or vegetarian-lite most of my adult life. Still, we decided from the beginning that we would eat the chickens that we raised, and we even had an excellent teacher explain how to process chickens. This butchering experience was our first time sans teacher.
If you’re at all squeamish, skip the next paragraph. For real.
The bully chickens struck again; their last assault was the memory seared into my brain of my husband pouncing on a headless chicken. On previous led-by-teacher chicken-slaughtering days, the chickens thrashed and flopped some like, well, chickens with their heads cut off, but never like this. Nothing like this. We usually sever the head of the chicken, place the rest of the chicken’s body in a five-gallon bucket lined with a garbage bag, and wait until the chicken has stopped moving. Our first chicken started jumping in the bucket, managed to jump out of the bucket, and started racing around, spraying blood everywhere. I stood there completely flabbergasted, neither sure what to do nor that I’d want to do it even if I knew what to do. I was thoroughly dumbstruck. My husband, however, sprang into action, literally, and pounced on the headless chicken and recaptured it in the garbage bag where it took an inordinately long time to accept its fate as a headless chicken. Our second chicken started down the same blood-splattered path, but we corralled it before it could jump out of the bucket. Blood splattered as we were by the headless-chicken escapades (and we both were, which certainly had never happened before), we didn’t let the bully chickens win their last bullying battle. We found the humor in the situation instead. I mean, my husband had to pounce on a headless chicken that had jumped out of a five-gallon bucket. Horror? Humor? A little bit of both.
Okay, squeamish folks can start reading again!
We cleaned out the henitentiary, and now it’s functioning as a brooder until the chicks are large enough to join the main coop—hopefully with few pecking-order incidents. The baby chicks arrived yesterday, and they are as fluffy and charming and adorable as baby chicks everywhere. These moments of cuddling up with my fluffy chicks are what I most remember about raising chickens, welcoming them into our home. Our chickens necessarily have to leave our home, but I know they’ll have good lives here with us.
We’re trying a few new breeds this time, including Cuckoo Maran and New Hampshire Red. I wanted another Dorking because mine delights me so much, and I ordered a Dark Brahma because my husband had liked that one so much last year… only to have it be a rooster. They seem happy in their outdoor coop, but I am feeling the overwhelming and relentless urge to check on them frequently since I can’t hear them happily peeping away in the crate right alongside my desk. Still, I think this arrangement will suit everyone just fine, most of all, my long-suffering-what-idea-will-she-have-next-oh-god-not-rabbits husband.