I had saved two eggs that got cracked in the coop when the chickens were pulling all the hay out of their nesting boxes to lay eggs on the bare wood. The longer the chickens were on adult feed the thicker the shells seemed to get, but a couple of these early eggs had cracked and i saved them for the dogs’ monday brunch. The dark one was Daisy’s egg and the light one was from Buttercup. I wasn’t feeling especially well and i overslept through all of the alarms…the one to take meds at 3, the one to let the chickens out of the coop at 6:30, and the one to get up and make breakfast at 8. So, i was late to everything. I had absent mindedly fed the dogs at dawn, though i’d already made the decision not to feed them on mondays until i got up so they could have their once-a-week egg brunch…so i ended up giving them a little extra dog food around 10 am with their eggs. As i pulled the eggs from the fridge both dogs appeared in the kitchen licking their lips. They knew what nice brown orbs i had in my hand and they knew what they were for too. Eating! Every time i collected eggs the dogs came to see what i’d gotten out of the coop and they would stare with interest, licking their lips through the chain link fence. Sili and Cashew loved eggs. I had decided that it would be a weekly late breakfast treat for them on my day off every Monday.
I put the skillet on the stove and cracked buttercup’s egg into it. I heard a whimper and this is what i saw when i turned around:
Both dogs were sitting at attention watching the skillet on the stove, watching me crack each egg into the skillet and then slide the precious cargo into the dog food bowls on the spatula. at one point they lost it and became very noisy and rowdy, whimpering and jumping about. I consider myself a very no-nonsense dog mama. To maintain control when out-numbered you’ve just got to hold the authoritative position and there’s got to be rules to have order. I turned around and in a very stern and raised voice announced that no-one was getting eggs if they didn’t cut it out. Both of them immediately went back to their places, side by side, in the sit position, absolutely silent. They stared at the skillet in anticipation as if to say “we got this! We’re being good! So good! We’re gonna be really good, i promise!”
I opened the doors and each dog climbed into their crate, turned around, and watched me like little four-legged hawks. I placed a bowl in each crate and closed the doors. The dogs went to town!
Both Cashew and Sili broke the yolk with their teeth and licked it until all the good stuff was gone.
That’s where the similarities ended. My wild, muscular, bull-in-a-china-shop aussie placed the entire fried egg-white on her tongue and swallowed it in one gulp. My dainty brindle-mix broke the egg white into tiny little pieces and ate each one with a few dog food kernels attached to it.
I enjoy the differences in their personalities. I maintain there’s no right or wrong way to eat an egg on top of dog food. I just know that my girls are coming to really look forward to mondays and during a time when i can’t really afford to buy them antlers or biscuits, i think its important to give them something to look forward to.
I had been known to fry grasshopper occasionally when i wasn’t feeding it to the chickens. I usually had to smash the grasshoppers to catch them but if it seemed especially intact or i managed to catch it alive i would save it for human consumption via the skillet. The grocery shortage of 2020 had sort of opened my eyes to the plentiful and free protein source hopping around the yard. Something had to run population control on the biblical amounts of grasshoppers eating everything in sight…why not me? Even though i was familiar with catching and cooking grasshoppers i had never gotten a chance at a cicada. I had watched television shows in which famous travel bloggers brought buckets of them to chefs who cooked them up in creative ways specially for the bloggers and their tv crews. I had printed recipes for cicadas over grits, fried cicadas, blackened cicadas, and cicadas in stew. I promised myself years ago that if i ever got the chance to purchase them in a market i would cook them and taste them; see what all the fuss was about. However, i never dreamed i’d get the chance to catch one in the yard.
One night i went out to water the plants in the mosquito net tent and i heard the buzzing of a large grasshopper inside. I thought, “great, i imagine the size of a hopper big enough to make that deep and loud a buzz indicates a catastrophic amount of damage the bug will have done to the vegetation in the tent so far.” I went into the tent with the mindset to catch the hopper for the chickens and survey the damage. However, as i trapped it between two plastic cups i realized, it wasn’t a grasshopper at all. It was a cicada! Oh happy days! I buzzed with excitement. I had caught such an amazing surprise! I would finally get the chance to taste cicada!
I set the trapped cicada in the kitchen and went about my evening chores. When everything was settled and put up for the night i returned to the delicacy sitting on my kitchen counter and began looking up recipes. It would be such a very little piece of meat and i would only get one chance to taste it. I decided not to over-complicate things and just use vegan butter, a bit of oil, and salt.
First i boiled the cicada in water for about 4 or 5 minutes.
Then i drained the water and added olive oil and a pat of vegan butter. I salted the critter and set it back on the stove to fry.
I fried it in the butter and oil another 3 to 4 minutes and then removed the bug from the heat. The wings and legs had become crispy. I pulled them off. I cut the head off. I also cut off the very tip which i presumed to be the butt. I was left with the torso.
I was so close to finally figuring out what the things really tasted like. Staring at the discarded legs, wings, and head, i wondered how crunchy it would be, if the insides of the bug would be chewy or liquid. I had a moment of hesitation. Then i got over it. I popped the bug into my mouth and chewed. The shell was crunchy but papery thin. The flesh was white and the texture of perfectly cooked shrimp, soft and not rubbery at all. It tasted like shrimp, with a peanut-like aftertaste that arrived a few seconds later. It was delicious. I wished i had a whole bowl of them. The gears in my mind immediately began turning, spinning up new ideas about how i could catch more of the noisy critters. It was like a crunchy snack; so juicy and so flavorful. I would have to taste it again. I would have to catch one again before i died. It couldn’t be a one-off. Shrimpy peanutty goodness with wings.
I had dreamed of raising chickens all my life. Even as a little girl in the city i knew that some day i wanted to have chickens. By the time i had a piece of land and an absence of a home owners society i had already developed an allergy to chicken eggs. However, my fascination with chicken behavior and chicken antics had not dwindled. I still wanted to raise the crazy birds. So i did. I figured i would give a couple eggs to the dogs on mondays and trade the rest to a select few people in exchange for occasional use of tools or to haul an order from town. It did not bother me that the girls hit laying age in the dead of summer when it was 110 degrees outside. I was fascinated with the chickens themselves. It was my coworkers that were waiting on the eggs.
I continued to visit them in the evenings and hold them one by one on my lap petting them while the rest of the chickens huddled around my knees panting, nuzzling their heads against my apron and waiting for nightfall to bring cooler air. My coworkers asked weekly, “are they laying yet?” So, i checked the coop every few days but, there was never anything there. It was just too hot for them and they were focused on surviving, not laying eggs. Well, towards mid July we had a hurricane in the gulf and the rain brought a week of temperatures in the 90s instead of triple digits. I got curious if the slight change in temperature would have any affects on the chickens so i opened the cleaning door to the coop and gasped. There in the shavings on the floor was a mound that one of the chickens had piled up and in the center of it were two tiny brown eggs. As i looked towards the nesting boxes, there was a third round brown egg hidden amongst the shavings there. I collected all 3 eggs. One of them was still warm. I brought them out into the daylight and examined them. They were different shades of brown. They were perfect little ovals. None of the chickens were broody or had any interest in sitting on them so no one seemed to much mind when i made off with the treasure in my apron pockets.
They had done it. My precious chickens that i had raised from little yellow balls of fluff under a heat lamp in the tiny house bathroom had begun laying eggs. My coworkers were thrilled and promised to bring me cartons during our next coinciding work day.
I stared at the three round brown eggs in awe. It was just mind boggling how all i had to do was feed and water them and clean their coop out once every three weeks and these birds would give me a daily resource that i could use for barter, dog food, or simply the joy of collecting. I couldn’t believe how it worked. A human had to work nine months to produce one baby. A chicken laid an egg a day. What a fascinating animal! It was a wonder to me why every household didn’t want one of these.
The following monday i selected a nice brown egg from the bunch and cracked it on the counter. Into the skillet the contents would go.
It was a perfect little egg.
The egg white was fluffier than that of a store bought egg.
I made a sunny side up egg, like i used to do for myself long ago. I left the yolk somewhat runny. Then i cut the egg in half and divided it evenly between each dog’s bowl. I set it on top of their dog food and let the yolk sink down between the little brown kernels. Then i called the dogs.
Sili wasn’t much interested in the fact that there was something different in her bowl. She ate 3/4 of whatever i put in front of her and then sat down dutifully waiting for me to open the door. Cashew thought it was christmas, birthday, and fourth of july all rolled into one. You couldn’t have torn her away from that bowl if you’d told her there was a herd of giant squirrels stampeding the hillside. She held the bowl with her paws and licked it until it shined like polished silver. I could tell Cashew was going to like mondays.
Egg collecting became like treasure hunting for me. Those crazy chickens buried eggs on the floor in the shavings, hid them between straw and the sides of the nesting boxes, and sometimes tucked them in the corners of the nesting box ceiling where the boxes met with the main part of the coop. In order to find the eggs one had to look everywhere. Frequently the chickens would scratch all the shavings and straw out of the boxes and lay eggs on the wood so a few of them sported hairline fractures but i figured they were still viable if eaten immediately. Every day i had something to look forward to. I knew lily and petunia were laying the light brown eggs. One chicken was laying speckled eggs, and the other two had to be laying the medium brown eggs. I wondered who was laying the speckled eggs but i hadn’t caught anybody in the act yet. Every day i visited the girls with empty apron pockets and left with a bounty of small treasure. What a wonderful creature to add to the homestead. Cashew watched me make my trips to the chicken pen with greedy anticipation. She may have been the only individual more obsessed with those chickens than i was. Cashew really appreciated a fresh egg.
The solitude fed my soul. The sound of the wind, the changing light, the chittering of sneaky coons, the hum and buzz of the cicadas, the soft footsteps of rabbits and squirrels in the fallen leaves, the clicking and snapping flight of the ever present grasshopper, the whistling song of birds, the rustle of leaves, the crunch of dry withering grass beneath my feet, the soft sound of dust taking flight with every pillowy footstep, the distant yips of coyotes, the buzz of flies and bees and dragon flies; the absence of human language nourished me.
I felt cocooned in the wilderness. I knew i had to return to the city to do my job, to make the money to pay the mortgage, to keep the land. To ensure my access to the wilderness i had to leave it every morning.
The land seemed vast and untainted while the city i drove to, the life i held there, was fraught with corruption, carelessness, and a sense of waste and fatigue. As a general rule people were viewed as resources; nothing more.
I enjoyed my time on the property, though it was mostly just a scrap of day stolen here or there. I felt the wind on my skin, read the weather, watched the bugs for signs of rain, filtered water, socialized the chickens, hunted grasshoppers… i tried to make the most of my time spent in the coveted solitude i so craved when patients were trying to rip my ppe off because they had dementia and didn’t understand why i was dressed as some terrorist ninja at a dentist office; when i was standing in the bathroom changing my scrub pants because the pair i had started out wearing that morning was compromised secondary to corporate’s belief that we didnt need any protection between our torso and our shoes and i chose to block the patient’s knees rather than let them slide to the floor; When coworkers were arguing vehemently about statistics and solutions as if they knew what they spoke of when none of us could do anything beyond take an educated guess and research the probability of validity through tracking symptoms and trends in each other and our patients; when people droned on and on to me about how horrible it was that they hadn’t been able to attend a hair appointment for a shampoo and color in 4 months while the images of coding elders and nurses’ husbands coughing up blood swirled in my head and anger arose in my heart for peoples’ lack of ability to care for others plight…i craved the solitude of the wilderness.
Patients still spoke to me about God. Some asked for guidance. Others wanted to give it, but throughout the chaos God remained central in the minds of the sick and the frail. It was my mind that was drifting from God’s people. I felt at home amongst the animals and tired of dealing with people. I watched a global pandemic bring the worst parts of my species to the surface. There seemed to be no end to the theme of wicked and selfish behaviors people accosted each other with. I was too weary of it to describe it any more. I simply retreated to the sanctity of the trees. I took refuge in the woods on my land and watched the insects rather than people for a while.
The ants and termites moved their larvae to higher tunnels every time rain was coming. They would form long lines of workers who couldn’t be bothered to bite my feet because they were busy carrying their precious cargo from one tunnel to another. Spiders spun their webs. Wasps dug holes in the ground and laid in wait for an insect to crawl in, at which point they emerged briefly to grasp the unlucky bug and drag it underground.
The wolf spiders sat still on the parched earth at night, mimicking the tufts of grass that grew sporadically in the darkness, waiting for an unlucky insect to come into view, at which point they would run as fast as lightening and pounce on the creature like a leopard on a gazelle.
I asked God to guide me in my words and actions and to give me the strength, the faith, and the wisdom to “finish this day as you would have it done”. God guided my steps and my actions in the city. If i had my way, i would leave them altogether and hide in my wilderness, away from the wickedness of humans. But, there was still work to be done, people to serve. I gave God the wheel and let him drive me back to the city where he intended me to be every morning, helping humans, for i hoped he could open my heart and put it on my heart to have love for my brothers and sisters, but at the moment, i felt more of a connection with the critters in the woods, the wind, the clouds, the trees…the solitude of wilderness.
I was wearing a dark blue uniform, so caked with mud and grime one hardly saw the color. It was caked with mud but also shone with the maroon streaks and splatters of old blood; some mine, some not. There was a ringing in my ears. Everything around me happened in muffled volume. I slithered on the ground, holding my rifle in my hands. I used it to propel me forwards by digging it into the mud, one side and then the other. The enemy flew bombers overhead and shot at us from the cover of the trees. My brain was screaming to return fire but i was out of ammunition. With no bullets in the gun, it was of little use to me as a weapon. I couldn’t shoot the enemy. I couldn’t get close enough to stab the enemy without getting shot dead first. There was no way for me to win the situation, no outcome in which we all got to go home. I thought of my girlfriend, smiling at me, hair curled, laughing and turning to run through a field, i following after her. I thought of my mother, straightening my uniform and placing my cap on my head, telling me to return to her. Their images vanished from my head. All around me there were only men. My men, laid up on the railroad tracks, no ammunitions, no vehicle, no train, no radio, and no hope of rescue…and the other men…the ones shooting at us from the trees. I kept moving us forwards because i felt that’s what we should do. Move forwards towards the enemy. Every once in a while i would shout something motivational to my men and we would rally, one last push, we would slither down the tracks, some firing what little ammunition they had left, my men dropping like flies all around me. We slithered toward the enemy to certain doom, with little to no ammunition when perhaps we should have run. But to run was a cowards way and none of us were cowards. So covered in mud, sweat, our own blood and the blood of our fallen brothers, we slithered ever closer to the enemy, taking bullet after bullet and dropping to writhe in agony in the mud only to be shot in the head and finally lay still. All around me bullets whizzed and muffled shouting registered. I looked down at my hand. I knew i had written there with black ink the night before, “trash” to remind myself to take the trash out to the curb before morning. However, looking at my hand, “trash” was not the word written there in black ink. It was the word “brakes”. I thought, “that’s strange.” I wondered why i would write the word “brakes” on my hand. We hadn’t seen a vehicle in days. We had abandoned the tanks because we were out of fuel and couldn’t make them move. Instead, we had continued on foot. Now we lay on our bellies, unarmed and surrounded, and slithered towards the enemy, some already mortally wounded. The man i was shouting at took a bullet to the face and dropped in the mud. I looked around me. Why hadn’t we run? Who on earth would do this? Why hadn’t we run when we had the chance? I sat up in bed, drenched in sweat. All my muscles were cramping at once. I was extremely tired, to the point where i could fall asleep mid conversation, while i was driving, while i was typing, basically anywhere whilst doing anything. Sore and in agony, i struggled to peel my eyes open long enough to swallow my 3 o-clock meds and stumble to the bathroom. Then i felt my way back to bed. I was afraid to close my eyes. Like the first time i exhibited symptoms, after two months of none, i was back to riding out night sweats, tachycardia, muscle and joint pain, extreme fatigue, and sporadic sleep plagued with nightmares of death. But this one was different. I thought about my therapist in austin. I wondered what she would say about the soldiers crawling through mud with zero ammunitions. I couldn’t spend the money required to find out. I sipped a cup of water and tried to tear myself from the fading images in my head. I looked down at my hand. It read “trash” in black letters.
I had come to understand that due to the shade and the termites eating things from beneath the dirt, all of my veggies were to be miniature in the mosquito net tent. Meanwhile, the jack rabbits, grasshoppers, and deer were constantly trying to eat their way through or dig under…our homestead was not a good environment for farming. I-E, i should try if at all possible, not to quit my day job, because between high winds, relentless grasshoppers, termites, pill bugs, deer, jack rabbits, and possums; gardening was not easy or especially fruitful.
people were constantly telling me that chickens were very smart birds. They could be taught tricks. There was even one on “america’s got talent” playing a song on the piano. I just didn’t see it. These were birds that were constantly turning their water containers over in 100+ degree heat. I was always on suicide watch, trying to keep these birds alive. I wasn’t sure where the intelligence factor came in. I just knew, i could easily write a book called “100 ways for chickens to off themselves if you don’t get home quickly enough to undo what they’ve done”.
Right around the time the birds began purposefully kicking their water containers over i noticed the appearance of little flying roaches. I had never seen roaches before on the property. Right around the time i put the chickens outside, my neighbors had purchased cows and sheep and everybody seemed to have new livestock in their yards in preparation for the apocalypse. There was an increase in shed mice and an appearance of roaches so i attributed it to the fact that all those sheds now had feed in them. Little did i know, the appearance of the flying roaches was a direct result of something my chickens were doing.
For the life of me, i couldn’t understand what possessed these chickens to constantly knock their water over until i went out one morning and caught Rosie doing it. Rosie being Rosie, she made no attempt to hide her efforts and activities. She let me stand there and watch as she jumped on the food dispenser until it broke in half. She then used her beak to drag the halves across the floor, spreading the feed with her feet. She placed a talon in the water tray and pulled, flipping the water over like a pro. The water covered the feed she had laid out across the floor. At the time, as dense as i was, i still didn’t get it. I threw my hands up. I said, “That’s it! That’s it you crazy chickens. I don’t know why you insist upon wasting this feed! I’m not giving you any more until you eat what’s on the floor. Rosie seemed undisturbed by my obvious upset. I stood the water dispenser up, closed the pen door and left. The next morning, pre-dawn, i slid the door to the chicken coop up, clad in scrubs and ready for work. I finally witnessed the purpose behind Rosie’s actions. My chicken was farming. Not carrots…not potatoes…no…my chicken was running a nocturnal roach and maggot farm. She had made the perfect environment for the flies to lay eggs and the roaches to multiply as well. They would roost up on the bars and let the maggots and roaches eat the soggy feed overnight. When i shone the lamp into the coop the roaches scurried up the walls and chaos ensued. Everywhere, chickens snatched up roaches trapped in the coop without an immediate exit plan. So you see, the roaches ate the feed and the chickens ate the roaches full of the feed. I sighed. I was impressed. I saw it now. Chickens were smart, or innovative at the very least. I also knew that this operation could not be allowed to continue. We did not need the quantity of roaches these chickens were successfully breeding on their coop floor. I would rather them eat the feed than the possibly disease-ridden shiny little bugs. I didn’t trust the cleanliness of anything that could live without a head.
That very day after work i stopped at tractor supply and picked up a 5 gallon water dispenser…a 40 lb beast they couldn’t flip over or drag through the coop door. The night-time chicken farmers were retired.
My mother informed me one day that she and my grandmother had gotten together and sent me an early birthday present in the mail. She said it would be arriving via 6 boxes. I thought, “what on earth did they buy that spanned six boxes?” My mother wouldn’t tell me. She kept saying, “oh, just things you could use.” When i pried and tried to coax her into spilling the beans my mother would reply, “i don’t even remember what’s in it.” I was notorious for opening birthday and christmas presents when they arrived and then feigning total surprise day of…so much so that my family now wrote in the cards “i know you will open this upon receiving it so you don’t have to wait until christmas to call.” I enjoyed this development as i didn’t have to engage in the terrible waiting period to share my joy and gratitude. I wasn’t a fan of waiting or surprises, or patience of any kind. I liked to go go go. This philosophy extended to holidays as well. I lived alone. There were no children to put on festivities for, extended family to cook and decorate for, or significant other to make memories and photographs with so it all just seemed a bit silly for me to put all that importance on getting the day correct. I simply celebrated around the vicinity of the holiday on the calendar and that was good enough for me. Well, my birthday boxes arrived at the post office and i signed for them. The biggest ones came first, with the other four smaller boxes following a week later. I drove the boxes home and lifted them out of the car. I let the dogs outside and began dragging the boxes from the porch, over the threshold, and into the kitchen where i placed them side by side on the floor. I took my knife and ripped the boxes open. There was a mass of brown crinkly paper. As i moved the paper aside i gasped and my eyes lit up with understanding. It was food!!! Every type of pantry staple a girl could have wished for! For a second it was as if the pandemic didn’t exist. I wondered aloud how on earth my mother and grandmother had gotten ahold of this quantity and variety of foods! As i realized what they’d done i began to cry. They’d spent a lot of money on this endeavor. They didn’t have to do this. 1 box of pantry staples would have been a quite sufficient birthday present, but it appeared they’d bought the whole store! Immediately my mind flashed back to a childhood movie i’d seen. It was called “the little princess.” There was a scene where the two girls were locked in the attic of the boarding house, captive servants to the cold-hearted woman who ran it. All they had to eat was gruel and because they were being punished, they didn’t even have that. The girls used their imagination to make-believe a giant feast of muffins and fruit and every type of breakfast food they could imagine. They imagined the room decorated with bright cheery colors and them wearing dresses instead of rags. Then they laughed and twirled as they described how amazing their fresh foods tasted. I replayed the imagery of all their imagined food in my mind and i felt i was staring at the same scene, but it was real. There were rice crackers and rice cakes, dried lentils, green lentil elbow pasta, canned mushrooms, canned kidney beans, canned garbanzo beans, canned butter beans, canned diced tomatoes, red lentil penne, green tea, apple sauce, rolled oats, tinkyada pasta…there was even fish! Canned sardines, canned salmon, canned butternut squash, canned black beans, a bag of cashews, a bag of brazil nuts, a jar of pickles, and a jar of olives. My mother said one of the other boxes contained oat milk, which i used to make weekly yogurt. I was astonished. I felt like the richest person in the world. I felt like the girls in that scene of the movie “the little princess”; consumed with the joy of just seeing it. I realized what they’d done. They had set me up so that on days when i didn’t have anything to eat, i would not go hungry. I carefully placed all the items into the pantry, putting the nuts in the freezer. I stacked and secured them all in their places and then i closed the pantry doors. I vowed not to eat any of it unless i was truly out of the produce that came in the mail weekly. I had to make this last. It was incredibly generous of them to set me up with such peace of mind and food security and it would be irresponsible to gobble it all up in 5 seconds just because it looked good. However, just knowing it was there in the pantry brought me immeasurable joy. Just staring at it every time i opened the door to make oatmeal for breakfast or grab rice for supper…it gave me great peace of mind to know it was present on the shelves and it was exciting to look at all the different shapes and colors of food. I did allow myself two tastes of the spread. I picked out 3 creamy cashews and a tin of sardines with some crackers. The cashews were so good! It had been months since i had tasted anything other than rice and vegetables. It was such a treat! The sardines reminded me of my grandmother. She had taught me how to make them crispy with garlic and salt in the toaster oven long ago. I thought of her whenever i ate sardines. So i ate the sardines. It was the best meal i had eaten in a long time and i savored every bite, breaking the flaky fish apart with my tongue and savoring the oily goodness. My grandmother always saved the sardine juice to pour over my mother’s dog’s supper. So i did the same. I divided the juice between sili and cashew’s bowls, pouring it over their supper and watching the kernels absorb the liquid, residual flakes of fish sticking to the little brown kernels. They loved it and woofed it down with gusto. I stood in the kitchen and stared at the stocked pantry. They had outdone themselves. Nobody in the history of my life would ever outdo this year’s birthday present from my mom and grandmother. It was like a thousand christmases at once.
i worried that the hens would feel vulnerable to predators or miss their rooster following ira’s death but some sort of transformation was already underway in the chicken pen. To my surprise, the chickens actually had very friendly personalities. They had been non-existent under ira’s reign. The chickens were stand-offish and distant. With the rooster gone the chickens began greeting me when i brought food and water. They began coming up to me and rubbing their heads on my pants legs like little dogs. They enjoyed being petted and made little cooing noises when i petted them. They closed their eyes and leaned into my hand when i petted their combs. I had no idea they were that friendly! All of them liked to surround me and lean in for petting, using my legs to support them as they were petted. However, one chicken was more friendly than all the others. Little Daisy was a feisty chicken that sometimes gave my biggest chicken Rosie a run for her money when it came to being the dominant chicken in the flock. Rosie was bigger than her by quite a bit, so Daisy always lost their tussles in the end, but Daisy was just as loud and bossy a chicken as Rosie. Both of them became possessive of me and wanted me to pet them exclusively, shooing the others away if they were seen being petted. However, Daisy took a special corner of my heart when she began climbing onto my lap and sitting comfortably for up to 40 minutes if i would sit still. It was her favorite place to be. When i came home from work i would enter the chicken pen, Daisy would run to me, put her head on my knees, stretch her neck out, and climb onto my lap where she would flatten herself, draw her head in, and rest comfortably while i petted her. If i put food scraps out i had to save a couple for her because she would rather sit in my lap than eat. Petting Daisy became my stress relief after a long day working in healthcare. Daisy became my therapy chicken.
It was a hot day. I knew that but i didn’t yet realize how hot. When i walked outside to fetch the dogs the air hit me like an oven door opening. I glanced at the outdoor thermometer on the porch and swiveled my head around to look again. It was 110 degrees. At first, i thought it must have broken. I searched for places where the mercury may have bled out of the tube, indicating that the thermometer was rendered useless and no longer read an accurate temperature. There were no such places. I grabbed my phone, “siri, what is the temperature outside in this location?” The phone was silent for a moment and then replied, “the temperature is…one hundred ten degrees.” I hurried to get the dogs inside the house. They had drank only half the water in their bowl but they were panting heavily, standing together beneath an oak tree. I rushed them inside to the cool air conditioned structure and put them in their crates where they could lie down. Then i headed to the chicken pen. They stood huddled in the darkness of the coop, mouths open, panting heavily. They had knocked over all the water containers and been without liquid for who knew how long. I grabbed the water containers and ran to the house where i poured filtered well water into each one. Then i ran back to the pen, water containers under my arms. I hurried into the pen. I didn’t want to let the cooler air out of the shady part of the coop so i didn’t open the big door. Instead, i reached through the chicken door and attempted to place the water dispensers down against the wall so that the chickens had access to water. Suddenly i felt a sharp pain in the back of my hand. A moment later i knew it wasn’t an overzealous thirsty hen. It was ira. He had trapped the skin on my hand between his beak and was thrashing his head back and forth in an attempt to pull it from my bones. Amidst a string of expletives i yanked my hand free and drew it back into the daylight. He had ripped the skin and the wound was both bleeding and turning purple. It became almost immediately infected despite my treating it with silver and tea tree oil. I would battle that infection for about a week before the area healed and a faint pink scar was all i had to remember it by. However, at that moment i had used my last ounce of patience with this rooster. Everybody had told me to let him reach maturity, let him reach an age when the hens would have him and he’d calm down. I did that. I put up with having to bring a weapon with me every time i fed or watered the flock, and having to fend him off in an attempted fight to the death every time i cleaned the coop. I put up with watching my back and cleaning the coop in choppy increments, stopping at times to fend off Ira with the chicken door insert, for months. When the hens would finally have him he was no less homicidal. If anything, he became more possessive and aggressive. He was also pretty rough with the hens. Nobody had taught this guy about cuddling or foreplay. He simply grabbed the hens by the back of their necks, swung them around, mashed their faces into the dirt, and thrust his hips like there was no tomorrow. If a hen got away from him while he was doing his dance so to speak, he wouldn’t rest until he’d caught her again, but not to finish his dance…he would recapture the hen only to punish her for escaping him. He would not try to mount her this time. Only throw her around, peck her, and kick her about the head. The hens would run behind Rosie, my biggest chicken with deformed feet, and she would squawk loudly, warning him to leave them alone.
I was beginning to realize that ira would not have a permanent place with us on the homestead. I had kept him to protect the hens from predators but it seemed i had closed their most dangerous predator in the pen with them. Some of the chickens began developing bald spots where ira had pulled the feathers out of the backs of their necks. That day when Ira took one more chunk out of my hand it was just that last drop of rain needed to start a mud slide. I had had enough of Ira, the homicidal teenage rooster, and i told him so. I said, “You’d better grab a hen and **** her now cuz by sundown today you’ll be dinner. That’s it! I’ve had it! You’ve got to go!” As i gathered the supplies i figured i’d need to transport him i said, “you’re gonna be some coyotes dinner tonight ira. I’ve had it for the last time! We’re not doing this anymore! I’m not going to fight you to the death every time i have to put water in the coop and the dance we go through every time its coop cleaning day is just plum ridiculous! You are clearly not growing out of this. I’ve done all i can do. You try to kill me when i’m feeding you, when i’m watering you, when i’m moving, when i’m standing still. You are clearly not the cute little chick i nursed from the brink of death on my chest for warmth when you were little. You are a full grown homicidal little ******* and you’ve got to go.”
It took me a while to catch ira. He took another swipe at me, kicked at me with his feet, and then ran into the coop. I went in after him. Seeing that i had, ira grabbed the hens and began positioning them on top of him in one of the nesting boxes, burying himself underneath them. I had to gently lift the chickens away to get back to my beef with ira the rooster and each time i had a hen in my hands ira took advantage of them being full and grabbed more of my skin and thrashed his head about. The slimy little snake! I got all the hens away from him so he ran. I opened the door and let him out of the pen. I couldn’t have the coyotes finding him on our property, as they would be looking for more buffet dinner here if they knew it as a food source. I had plans to drive ira into the woods and leave him for the coyotes. These plans were complicated when i noticed ira climbing back through the horizontal bars of the cow gate to return to the chicken pen. Great. A rooster with gps. I drove him a little farther away this time. I returned to the property and went about the chores in the yard. Then i looked up from my task and here he comes climbing back through the gate, ready to pick up where we left off, ready to fight me to the death, pacing and jumping about, watching me with his tail feathers stiff and his head low, watching me always.
I knew what i had to do. I was going to have to kill Ira myself. This would be hard for me, as i was used to nurturing life and bringing things back from the brink of death, spending hours feeding small animals with syringes and administering antibiotics…keeping tiny animals warm and checking them for dehydration…i had never taken an animal’s life. I wondered if i had it in me to do it. I was not a mountain lion or a coyote. This was not my nature. Did i have it in me to watch the life drain out of something and know that it had been at my hand? I didn’t know. I looked around. The rooster had to die and i was the only one there to do it, so kill him i would have to. I grabbed Ira by the feet and flipped him upside down. He knew what i was doing. He fought me all the way. Even as we were nearing the side of the shed he kicked harder and thrashed more violently but i held on. His beak snapped open and shut as he reached for me. I had resolved myself to do it and so i did. But i noted how he fought harder the closer we got to the shed. He sensed his end was coming. He tried his hardest to win, and in the end, just to gain freedom. For a split second he stopped trying to kill me and tried to fly, but i never let go of his feet. It broke my heart to know that he knew what was happening to him. As ratchet and ugly as he was to myself and the hens, i wished i could have just tucked him into bed and watched him drift peaceably into eternal sleep like the doctors did with terminal cancer patients, placing the morphine clicker in the patient’s hand and putting a chair for family next to the bed. But ira was not a cancer patient and roosters couldn’t have morphine. As he died he made one last noise and for that split second he sounded as he had when he was a fluffy little chick, tiny and uncertain. This monstrous homicidal beast had made a plea for mercy and the noise would probably stick with me for life.
I did what had to be done, proving to myself that i had what it took to do it, but also cementing the idea in my head that i wanted to avoid repeating the task at all costs if possible. I would never again buy small chicks, always older ones that had already been sexed. I would never accept the incubators people offered me at discount or even no cost, because eggs might hatch into roosters. I would never purchase a replacement rooster for the flock. The homestead became an all-girl household. Ira’s comb turned purple and the eyes lost their bright vigorous hatred and became dull glazed orbs. He was bigger than i realized; almost twice the size of the hens. I gave him no funeral. I said no words. I felt it would have seemed disingenuous to speak about his life as i was the one to take it. Instead, i sat with him for a bit in silence. I remembered what he was like before he hit puberty. I hoped God would welcome him into heaven in his chick form where he could be mothered by hens and play with other chicks, before puberty turned him into a relentless death and destruction machine. I didn’t sleep well that night. Later the feed store told me they would have taken ira and given him a home amongst their flock. I didn’t think that was a good idea. They already sold some notoriously aggressive breeds. All they needed was the genetics of a super aggressive rooster in their chicks bloodline. Then the whole town could know what it was like to live with an Ira.
A week later i would find out that Ira was what was known as a “man fighter”. The roosters that farmers wanted to keep fought other roosters, but some roosters fought people instead. The guy said the way to tell if a rooster was unfixable was to put food down. If the rooster went to the food he would grow out of the aggression. If the rooster could care less about the food and never took his eyes off the person’s hand or leg, abandoning the food to attack the person, the rooster would have to be dispatched and brought to the kitchen. It would not grow out of the behavior. The guy said the worst thing to do with a man-fighter was to let him breed because the chicks would risk inheriting the trait or passing it down to their offspring. I knew what had to be done and i did it but my heart wasn’t in it.