Playing Chicken

“How many chickens do you have?” A visitor asks.

“Just those ones,” I say evasively, pointing to the clucky bunch strutting around by our rope swing. I’ve discovered that when you admit you don’t always know how many animals you have, people begin to doubt your capabilities, and I’m loathe for people to discover that not only do I not know what I’m doing, but most of the time I don’t even know what’s going on.

Kolbe McKee (4) chicken small
Photo by Kolbe McKee

It’s not that I don’t actually know how many chickens we have, please, I’ve even counted them. I’ve been watching them from my window as they stand looking perplexed on the guest house porch and I can see clearly that today there are three hens and a rooster. But tomorrow we might have two hens, or four, and today our rooster is fully clothed but if one of his comrades performs poorly in the cock fights next weekend, he might be replaced by some poor sucker who’s been plucked from the waist down and has narrowly avoided becoming Sunday’s soup in retribution for a lost bet. The movements of my chickens are mysterious to me not only because I can’t fathom what goes on in their tiny brains, but also because they fall into a realm controlled by the guys who work in Paul’s carpentry shop.

I grew up in the mountains on six acres of land with a dad who was capable of not only building our log cabin but also fixing and restoring all manner of vehicles with an internal combustion engine and a mom who not only grew unbelievably productive gardens in an abbreviated growing season and preserved bushels of food, but also raised egg-laying chickens. So of course when Paul and I acquired our six acres in the mountains, I imagined my own deft control of my kingdom: a tidy vegetable garden, a small flock of chickens, fresh eggs and mango preserves.

It turns out, however, that my style is slightly more haphazard than that, and since I can’t be counted on to reliably water my plants (I’m also gazing out onto three dead ones in pots alongside the guesthouse porch), I can recognize that neither should I be relied upon to look after chickens, so for eight years we didn’t have any. Then the flea infestation in the workshop got out of hand and the guys suggested getting chickens to control it. Since then, they have maintained a scraggly and ever-changing flock which I strongly suspect is made up of rejects from the flocks in their own houses. I also suspect the guys get eggs from these chickens because every once in a while they bring us a few, but I’m not complaining because I know I can’t be relied upon to actually go find the eggs, let alone feed the chickens to make sure they can lay eggs.

farmers peanut field chicken LN OANB
Photo by Lisa Nicholson

But it turns out that when you’re too lazy to really compost and you just throw your food scraps down the embankment into the edge of your garden, then the chickens will spend most of their time there, foraging through. “Oh, I see,” my mother remarked kindly when she was visiting recently, “it’s not a compost heap for your garden, it’s the scrap pile to feed the chickens.”

Yes, wasn’t it clever of me to design my garden that way? Plus the fleas are gone, so it’s a win-win.

“Aren’t chickens an awful lot of work?” Asks our visitor.

I just smile serenely. “You’d be surprised at how little I do for these chickens,” I say.




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