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17 beautiful chickens.


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Warning: this will be long.

When I was ten or eleven my Dad was asked by a friend at work if he wanted chickens. The next thing I knew, we had a box of a dozen multicolored week-old peepers in the back of our minivan. Literally all we had was the storage container they were in, the shavings in it, a heat lamp, a bag of food, and of course the chicks. When they got too big, we moved them from the living room out to the garage, and started working on a coop and run. At this point in my life, I knew literally nothing about chickens but that hens laid eggs and roosters crowed. I was just an innocent little girl who checked a chicken book out from the library and hoped that my two little black chickies I picked out turned out to be Silkie bantams. Looking back, I have no idea how we got them all to adulthood. There was always so much crap in the water, it's a miracle none of them got cocciodosis. As they aged, one, Hazel, started crowing. There was another one that we suspected was a rooster, one of mine, Pepper. To this day I still have no idea which gender Pepper was, but they were supposed to be all female, so we took them back to the guy we got them from. My sister accepted her new Moonbeam with little fuss, but I wanted one of the chicks he showed us, got mad, and went and sat in the car. My brother caught me a random chicken, and we went home. It was dark when we got back, but by the light of the yardlight I noticed what gorgeous eyes my stupid chicken had. She must have been tired, because when I held her up for a closer look, she acted so sweet. My heart just melted. When they got fully-grown one last rooster presented himself in all his masculine glory. His name was Rusty, and he was a much better crower than Hazel. He was a nice Easter Egger rooster, likely the brother of our Easter Egger Eliza. He was gorgeous, and I wanted to keep him. But we found ourselves at a house with chickens down the road, trading him in for a big fat hen with feathered feet. I learned later that she was a Brahma. I was mad again, as I was hoping for a Silkie or a Polish. My dad named her Fuzzyfoot. She was half-blind and half-deaf but nowhere near mute. She was too big to fit in our nesting boxes, and had to lay her daily harvest-moon-colored eggs on the floor. She went broody often, and had troubles in the heat. But she was the sweetest chicken I've ever met. I have many good memories with her.

And so was our original flock of twelve. I sorted them into three groups of four, the snooty Ladies, the beaky Savages, and the big Fatsos. I will talk about each of them here.

Eliza was an Autumn colored Easter Egger. She had little puffs of down on her cheeks, (called muffs,) and laid blue eggs. Yes, blue eggs. She thought she was better than everyone she looked upon, and she was right.

Shaker was the prettiest chicken I've ever seen. She had a little pea comb.  She was mostly tan, with lacing a shade lighter in some areas. Her flight feathers and tail were dusky gray, and she had a reddish-brown chest. She had a little crest of light brown feathers on her head like a Cream Legbar, which I now call the Shaker hairdo. She was a nice chicken who got along wonderfully with the others. She loved to run, and proved the chickens can't fly myth wrong. She could fly over our two-storey house. We never got to bury her.

Moonbeam was the chicken my sister got to replace Hazel. For a white Leghorn, she was amazingly sweet. But, boy was she LOUD. She laid a small white egg every day, queen of the nesting boxes she was. Even though she was a hen, she had three-inch-long razor-sharp spurs, though she was too nice to ever use them. Her huge comb got frost-bitten in the winter, and I would take her inside where she would sit quietly in a milk-crate for a break from the cold. So sweet...

Apostrophe was bright bronze. I've never seen another chicken that color. She laid green eggs, and had a little pea comb. She was the epitome of a Lady, the snootiest of them all. She would let me hold her, though. She was chocolate on the inside.

Ripbeak was a savage. All of the chickens were nice, but just be sure you didn't expose your fingers to her. She didn't peck, she bit down, jerked her head, and tore. She had a huge comb like Moonbeam, and was mostly white with a few light gray feathers.

Potpie was like Ripbeak in every way, except more mellow, with a slightly smaller comb. A couple weeks before her death, we dyed her bright turquoise. I don't think she ended up forgiving us.

Shredder was white with a big comb, several black feathers, and inch-long spurs. She wasn't mean, but she was literally blood-thirsty. She pecked me for the taste of it, and once when we clipped her beak too far, happily drank about a tablespoon of her own blood. But don't be getting the wrong idea, she was a wonderful chicken.

Fennel was the chicken who replaced my Pepper, who made me originally fall in love with chickens. She had the biggest comb of all of them, I don't know how she could see. She was white with a couple gray feathers, and had spurs longer than Moonbeam's. She had a "Shaker" featherdo on her head that always had food in it. Sometimes she was vicious, sometimes she was sweet. I loved her so much.

Fuzzyfoot was fat. There's no getting around it. But she was a good layer, and she put up with everything. Once I even went sledding with her. It didn't break my heart when I saw her body, it shattered it.

Alfrado ate eggs. We had a joke: Alfredo as a mother. "Must not eat eggs... Must not eat eggs! (Munch munch munch.) What have I done?!" If Fluffball is gold, and Apostrophe was bronze, than Alfredo was silver. She had an odd-but-beautiful design of silver and grey feathers, and no visible comb. She laid green eggs, if we got to it before she did. She was nice.

Chia was my favorite chicken. She was one of the pair I picked out at the beginning. She was fat, black with green iridescence. I still have no idea what her comb was. It was like a cushion comb with a nub. She didn't like her nub being touched, but did she ever love her watermelon. She was so friendly.

I'm not really going to talk about Fluffball, as she is the only one currently still alive.

One summer we were experimenting with free-ranging, which is letting them free to roam. It went great, and they were so happy. Until that one horrible day. I came out from a movie to check on them. Potpie was happily scatching for bugs right by the stairs. I noticed feathers on the lawn as I went down the driveway to the chicken coop. I didn't think much of it, as they were starting to molt. Chia was up on top of the run, just sitting there. She didn't even seem to see me. I walked to the food barrel and banged the lid to get them to come running, like I always did. There was no response, not even from Chia. I tried again. Nothing. I crouched down to look in our windbreak of pine trees where they liked to scratch and saw a lump of brown feathers. Fuzzyfoot, just lying there. She didn't even look touched. All I can really remember right after that is running into the house shouting for help. When we were looking for our chickens, my brother saw a fox with a white chicken in its mouth. When it saw him, it dropped the chicken and ran. It turned out to have killed Shredder, Fennel, Fuzzyfoot, Alfredo, and Shaker. We were left with only seven chickens. We buried the first four, but we never saw Shaker again. I knew how many predators we had. I saw them all the time. And I let them all out to die anyway. I still regret that choice every single day.

We stopped free-ranging, obviously. And all went well up until a few months later. I noticed Eliza was just laying in a corner of the coop one day. I took her out, and she was droopy and horrifyingly light. Over the next half hour, my sister and I sat with her on the steps while she deteriorated. Soon she would only respond when we grabbed her beak. Finally my parents convinced us to come in and eat. We were having chicken, but I couldn't bring myself to eat that with a dying chicken that I loved right outside. I just ate some lettuce. Now that I think about it, that's actually the day that I stopped. I haven't eaten any chicken since.

But the point is, I came inside and ate lettuce. I know I probably couldn't of done anything but kept her company. But that's what kills me. I left Eliza, my precious Eliza, to die all alone in a box on the sidewalk. When I got back outside, she was dead. Of the things I regret doing most in my life, that ranks second.

After that, things went along smoothly with my half a dozen chickens. I became absolutely obsessed with chickens. I now know more about poultry than I do anything else, I know more than everyone I meet. I checked out every chicken book in the library, (all twenty-eight of them,) and memorized every fact, every breed in them. I'd turned into the only chicken care keeper long ago. Life was good. I loved my glorious chickies, and my glorious chickies loved me.

Up until April. I'm fourteen now. My dad wanted new layers so he arranged for an asian guy from work to come get them, kill them, and eat them.

He gave me about a weeks warning. Every time I look over at the mulch, I remember when I hugged them all goodbye one last time. How their feathers felt against my cheek. How Potpie, then blue, was glaring at me. And every time the song Fly comes on the radio, it takes everything I have not to cry, because that's the song I used to sing to them when tucking them in for the night on the roost in the winter.

What hurts the most is the fact that they were eaten. My precious Chia was butchered, plucked, eviscerated, cooked, cut up, and eaten just like all the other how-many-million chickens each year our industry produces. And then her remnants were thrown away in a garbage can. Because she wasn't just another chicken. Chia was best friends with Fluffball. She was somehow heavier in the dark. She liked to dust bathe in mud. She had the weirdest comb you've ever seen. She wasn't just a chicken. None of them were.

I really, really did not want more chickens, because I knew I'll just have to go through this again. But no, we got fifteen chicks in the mail. And I have to take care of them, because I'm the only one who knows how. As if to remind me just how much that's going to hurt, Jade, Mindy, and Annie all died in the first week. They're seventeen weeks old now, and I already love them.

I'm screwed.

And it doesn't help at all that they remind me of my other chickies. The green off Spade's black feathers like Chia's, Alice Von Fluffypants looks so much like Eliza, the way Jasmine preens her neck feathers the exact same way Apostrophe always did, so elegantly.

I don't know what I'm going to do. The story that just took me three and a half hours to type in still haunts me. I still feel so guilty. They were my life. All I know is that I can't do it alone. Not anymore.

And I did warn you that it was going to be long.

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I am so sorry for your loss...I used to have pigeons and they all had their own name and personalities, so I understand how close you can get.  All I know is if we allow fear of loss to reign, we miss so much, I think of the much loss I've suffered in my life and if I denied myself the ability to love again, the one I'd be robbing is myself.  I DO understand your feelings though!

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