Chicken Diary: Entry 1

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We have chicks.

Four of them.

This happened spontaneously, in a way: After nearly a year of hemming and hawing, visiting neighbors’ chickens and doing leisurely online searches, Dan came to me early last Saturday morning and said, “Let’s do it before I talk myself out of it.”

He had found a feed store in Walpole, Massachusetts that sold chicks and chicken supplies. It was 9 a.m. We had plans midday. I roused 10-year-old A from the TV, where she was engaged in her weekly Disney Channel binge, and said, “Turn it off. We have a mission. You’re going to like it.”

She did. I did, too. We lost our cat two years ago, and we desperately need pets. The betta fish in the living room is nice, but insufficient. Dan doesn’t want another cat: he still has residual trauma from cleaning cat pee. We’d love a dog, but we’re waiting until 5-year-old J graduates, himself, to a less dog-like state.

But he loves animals. We love animals. We love animals that can live in the backyard. In warm-weather days, Jesse spends as much time as he can digging through the flower beds, collecting snails and caterpillars, inchworms and earthworms, lining them up and watching them go. Snails are decent entertainment — they come out to say hello, waving antennae, slimy and beautiful — but they disappear in the cold-weather months. Chickens will sustain us through the winter. They’ll huddle in cold weather and keep themselves warm. Our friends on the next block have three chickens that survived last winter’s Polar Vortex, many times over. They make adorable noises. And – fringe benefit — they lay eggs. Dan asked me to look up “Buff Orpington,” a hearty New England breed, and friendly. One website said the chickens like to sit on people’s laps. I was sold.

Soon enough, so were the chicks. We found them milling around, pecking at air, in a heated container near the entry of the store. We’d imagined getting three, but the store attendant recommended four, the better for winter huddling. He lifted a quartet of five-day-olds and put them in a box: Two Buff Orpingtons, classic-chick yellow, and two Barred Rocks, black with speckles of white fuzz. We bought a giant bag of medicated feed, an even larger bag of pine shavings, a heat lamp bulb, and containers for food and water. The chicks made cheeping sounds and pooped in the box, which A held on her lap for the ride home.

I rifled through the basement storage area and found a big plastic bin, filled with Lego Duplos. (Another fringe benefit: This was the motherlode of Lego Duplos, handed down to us by someone or other, elephants and cranes and train tracks, long forgotten, now beloved.)

The chicks have a new home: a bin in the bathroom, covered by wire, warmed by a 250-watt heat lamp, which will sustain them for week as they grow, and buy us time to find a coop by the time they’re ready to move outside. They have names, which A and I settled on that day: Bebe, DeeDee, Lanie, and Lou.

A is already a champ at cleaning chicken poop. And J is quickly learning what it’s like to be a parent.  “I don’t ever want them to get big,” he keeps saying. I know exactly how he feels.

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