Spring Chickens

By Kathryn Edgecombe in Community

John and I spent the eve of Y2K asleep on a beach on the north island of New Zealand and that was the beginning of an amazing year. We traveled for three weeks touring New Zealand in an old Mitsubishi station wagon. We visited glaciers and little blue penguins and volcanoes. We met Maori people who immediately adopted John, as he is a Canadian First Nations person. Then we were off to Australia for the rest of the year.
At the time, I was doing a teacher exchange in an Australian school for the calendar year 2000. We had so many adventures, visited lots of sacred sites, bought Aborigine art, camped with kangaroos, swam with dolphins, met great people and fulfilled my childhood dream of traveling to the four corners of Australia and we experienced the most amazing country. Before we knew it the year was over and it was time to return to Canada.
After such an awesome time we suffered intense cultural shock on our return to Guelph. It seemed impossible to just resume existence, as we knew it. My rewarding teaching position and John’s budding career as an Aboriginal performer didn’t seem like enough so we looked around for – what next. I am an idea person and when John hears the words, “John, I’ve been thinking…,” he knows that change is on the wind. This time we decided to follow a dream to move into the country.
We eventually bought an eighteen-acre piece of heaven just south of Clifford, Ontario. Our beautiful property came with a small barn and a twelve-acre maple bush. The first spring there we sacrificed both the top and bottom of our roasting pan, as well as the stockpot, to our maple syrup operation. Enough syrup was made to keep a few friends and us in the golden stuff for most of that year.
Now we got so excited about this maple syrup that we thought it would be a great idea to have our own chickens to lay our own eggs with which to make wonderful French toast (I would, of course, bake the bread) to accompany our home-made syrup. So we spent a weekend turning one corner of our little barn into a chicken coop and fencing off a good size run so our birds would be free ranging chickens. Then it was yet another trip to the old Carnegie library in Harriston to borrow more books about country life for city folks. I read a bunch of books about the care and feeding of a small flock of chickens, heritage breeds of course. Luckily a co-worker of mine raised all kinds of birds and he was down sizing his setup and he sold us all the equipment we would need – everything from nesting boxes to watering thingies. He also told us about an event that takes place every spring and fall in Mount Forest called The Fur and Feather Market. Since he always attends, he promised to meet us there, by six-thirty in the morning, to help us acquire the appropriate hens. “Early worm gets the best bird,” he said. As the spring was well under way and since we were anxious to crack our own eggs we decided to purchase full-grown hens rather than the cute little fluffy chicks. After all, these were not pets, they were to be our farm animals. We decided on four (probably geriatric, as we slept in and missed our friend and did the choosing ourselves) barred Plymouth Rocks. They were magnificent, except for the little bald spots on the backs of their heads, which we were assured was only because they had been cooped up in the barn all winter. The girls, as they were to be called hence forth, were unceremoniously stuffed into a cardboard box by their previous owner, smelling to high heavens, as they say, and toted home by us and placed in their
new pen.
All went well for the first couple of weeks. Every day I would go out and search through the hay in the nesting boxes and usually found two or three very small eggs. Small eggs either means that they are at the beginning of their laying life, or is it the end? The girls were a bit leery of me, but since they were not pets I did not take it personally. One morning I went to feed them and I noticed the door to the coop was open. You had to shake the latch to make sure it caught and I guess that hadn’t happened the night before. As I stepped into the dimly light room I noticed right off that something was wrong. The girls ran out of the coop as soon as the door was opened all the way – one, two, three… I searched for number four, but all I found were a few feathers. Oh well, it was a lesson for the new farmers.
A couple of days later when I opened their tall food dish to fill it I was startled by a pair of beady eyes staring up at me. As I tipped the contraption on its side a baby raccoon scampered out and away. We put chicken wire around the top of the wall where there were openings to the loft above.
The next morning, John went to feed the girls before he left for work. He came back into the kitchen a few minutes later. He looked pretty grim and as soon as he came through the door he said, “One chicken is dead, one is just about dead and the other one doesn’t look too good.”
We went outside together, but he returned to the coop alone as I could not face the carnage. By the time he got there the second chicken had succumbed to her injuries so I said, “You have to put the last one out of her misery. Hit it with the shovel or something.”
My soft, hearted man looked stricken and said, “I can’t! You do it.” That sent me directly to the phone book to get the number for our local veterinarian. Did I mention that we had moved into farm country? When the vet answered the phone I asked if they euthanized chickens. There was dead silence on the other end of the line for a moment then she said, “No one has ever asked me that before. I guess we can.”
So we put our poor chicken back into a cardboard box and took her for her last ride. When the vet and her student carried the box into the examination room I thought I could detect a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. As we sat waiting for the deed to be done we heard laughter coming from the next room. I know it was only a chicken, but it was, after all, our chicken. A moment later they came back into the room with the dead chicken in her box in one hand and an egg in the other hand. She had laid her last egg while on the examination table. We solemnly took the egg and our boxed chicken home to bury her with her sisters – right after we paid the $27.00 vet bill.
Now and again we talk about fixing up the coop and getting more chickens – maybe this spring and maybe we will get the fuzzy little ones this time. Then again, the local farmer has really lovely fresh eggs.