Monday, November 16, 2009
In our neighborhood, a truly free-range chicken is a dead chicken (even yesterday, while the ladies were having a jaunt in the backyard with me nearby, a dog got loose and was caught by its owner just 50 feet away, way too close for comfort). If free-range, under government regulations, means a couple square feet of outdoor space per hen, we're all set, but with chicken wire on all sides and vittles brought in by hand, this ain't my grandfather's kind of free range.
But freeway chicken we have. Last week I engaged in an act which would have seemed unthinkable to me last time we got chickens, when I thought keeping them would be easy, that I wouldn't need to take too much trouble for them. Hazel and I drove over an hour south, to meet a colleague and his wife, who agreed, very kindly, to take in our rooster, Bolt, in exchange for a quieter (possibly) hen. Bolt was clearly going to a home where he could live his days out in poultry heaven, a ladies man to a couple of dozen hens; meanwhile, we took in Gabby, an 8 month old Delaware, as a pet to join our small flock (photographed from our porch, just next to and above the coop).
Gabby is adjusting well, leading our flock in and out of their indoor enclosure at night, keeping the others in line when they cross some mysterious chicken behavioral boundary or perhaps simply her personal space. No one is laying yet, but they seem content, making the most of the fresh fall leaves we add for them to shuffle around each day. No one is getting pecked, and if Gabby is less catchable for the girls, well, I can hardly blame her for having the sense to know trouble coming on two feet.
Most of me just feels so grateful and glad to have found a home for Bolt before his crowing got us in trouble with neighbors, and to have again an even number of chickens for our two children. I do have to wonder about the carbon footprint of my transaction: environmental ethics might have suggested that Bolt be served as dinner, locally, rather than driven by car an hour away so he could eat grain and grass for a longer lifetime with my kindhearted colleague's family. But the heart has its own logic, and mine has the logic of two 7 and 10 year old girls, whose chickens *are* pets, the consolation for a coopful of heartache in the past, whose chickens will help us learn about life, death, eggs, and nutrient cycles. In this household, driving a chicken on the interstate is just the latest strange escapade in trying to nest in our own home range.