Chickens and homecoming

As some of you may know, I returned last night from an 11-day trip to Colorado, where I was making a visit to my company’s headquarters. I was out there in order to make a dedicated effort to stuff my brain full of slightly more work-related knowledge than it can comfortably hold. The time was right, as it’s just about done digesting the last batch of knowledge I stuffed into it like a helpless brain-goose making all that information into delicious telecom foie gras. I also made my presence known to various Powers that Be, to ensure that they won’t forget my smiling face and business-casual devotion in the turmoil ahead. “I love my job,” I told them, “because I find the challenges rewarding and I’m eager to pursue a promising future in this career path.” The truth is actually a lot more like, “I love my job because I’ve built my life around an archaic livestock-related hobby with little to no relevance in modern industrialized societies and also I’m done wearing pants ever, and this job facilitates both things,” but sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy. Last but not least, of course, I also made my presence known to Vicky and Sara, my intrepid, indomitable, long-suffering manager/coworkers, to ensure that they won’t forget me either. No matter how hard they try.

Having loved on the dogs and Willow last night, I was impressed to discover today that our newest pets, the chickens, are much larger than when I left them. We have six chickens, which we acquired shortly before I left for Colorado. “The kids want to name them,” Josh warned me after the birds were comfortably ensconced in the coop we inherited from the previous residents of the TTH. “That’s fine,” I replied, “I’ll name one, you can name one, and they can name the rest.” I got first dibs on the chicken-naming, since I’m selfish and wanted the prettiest chicken for myself. Feeling strongly that Prettiest Chicken should have a fine name worthy of her beauty, I named her Angelina and then left Josh and the kids to do the rest.

I checked in later. “What did they name the chickens?”
Josh answered, “Fluffy, Snowball, Naomi, Haley, and Meatball.”
I more or less expected names like Fluffy and Snowball, since indeed, one has extra fluffy feathers, and one is white(ish). I was actually pretty impressed at the names of Naomi and Haley, who seemed like they could probably hang out in a cool-chicken clique with Angelina (who is obviously the leader of said clique, on account of being Prettiest Chicken). Meatball, though.
I asked about it, vaguely wondering which kid picked that one. “Meatball?”
“I named Meatball.” Josh was clearly pleased with himself.
You named Meatball?”
“Yeah. She has a head like a falcon.”
“Doesn’t she look like a falcon? Meatball is so cool.”
Since I both didn’t see the resemblance or how said resemblance relates to being named Meatball, I didn’t pursue it. I have no explanation for this. The man does as he pleases.

And thus our chickens: Angelina, Naomi, Haley, Snowball, Fluffy, and Meatball. They’re not laying yet, as they’re adolescents (and probably spiteful, as adolescents are) but will probably start up this winter. Chickens are new to me, though Josh is a previously experienced chicken-keeper and chief Subject Matter Expert around here on all things chicken. Here are some of my impressions of them so far.

1. They like Josh better than they like me. This is unfair but expected. Josh is one of those people who just has a knack with all sorts of animals, an instinctive understanding, trust, and intuition that the rest of us can learn through experience and time, but never quite master with the same confidence or ease. Up against this kind of competition, I did what anyone would do, which is try to buy the chickens’ affection with grapes. They lose their tiny minds over grapes, which as near as I can figure out are something like chicken cocaine. Previously existing in perfect harmony, when the grapes come out all bets are off, and even the best of chicken friends will scratch and flap the others out of the way as they chase the fruit across the floor of the coop with ruthless, single-minded determination. Grapes are a hell of a drug. A drug I shall use to my advantage.
“I’m feeding them grapes,” I gloated to Josh. I regret nothing.
“They’ll eat their feed out of my hands,” he returned, not at all threatened by my attempt to win the chickens over by introducing them to new, crippling fructose addictions.
“They will love me. I will make them love me.” I am no quitter.
Josh was smug with the confidence of a man who plays to win. “I’m going to get them mealworms, those bitches love mealworms.”
Mealworms are gross. I’m not sure I want to feed them mealworms. I can tell I’m going to need to up my game.

ch_naomi-haleyNaomi (left) and Haley

2. They are stupid. This probably comes as a surprise to no one, but so far the chickens have not proven themselves to be very intelligent. Sometimes Josh will go in there and they will eat from his hands, as mentioned above. Other times, when he enters the coop they fly into a sudden explosion of feathery panic, completely terrified by their inability to understand where this giant has come from and what intentions it might have toward them. They seem to prefer sleeping on top of the nice hen house rather than inside of it, and their first interaction with the perch Josh built for them was to knock it over (and of course terrify themselves) after becoming obsessively fascinated by the loose dirt at its base.

ch-meatfluffsnowMeatball (left), Fluffy (center), Snowball (rear), and Angelina (way back)

3. They are messy. Have you ever heard a person or color described as “chicken shit”? It’s a thing. It’s a vile thing; moist, frequent blobs of pusillanimous color, emanating a smell like the armpits of things which shouldn’t be thought of alone at night. They poop everywhere and they poop all the time. They really seem to love mud, and they scratch dirt up all the time in their constant search for food in places other than the large, obvious container of feed sixteen inches away. We had to set their water dish in a heavy rubber pan to make a sort of moat around it, because otherwise they kick so much dirt into the waterer, its trough fills up with mud. Which the chickens then step in, bite, and fling everywhere because remember, they’re inexplicably enchanted by mud.

ch-angAngelina (left), Meatball (right), and Naomi (back). Also Jet.

4. They are brave. Sometimes. The dogs both like the chickens. Indy has always been pretty mellow in his interest, as he is with Willow. With Jet, I had to have a more in-depth discussion regarding what we do and don’t do with chickens, and our general attitude and behavior towards them. Today as I crept around the coop iPhone stalking the birds, however, I was surprised to see that they’d sometimes go up to the dogs at the mesh fencing, and peck at them if the dogs got too close. Meatball, in particular, seems willing to take on either dog. Meatball fears nothing. Meatball has the Head of a Falcon.

5. They are very much how I imagine dinosaurs to be. When I was young, the theory that dinosaurs may share evolutionary history with birds was just emerging, and still somewhat controversial. Now it’s widely taught and accepted that modern birds developed from a particular group of theropods, and that dinosaurs may have had feathers and other birdlike attributes. If I had to describe my chickens, I would probably pick phrases such as “ridiculous” and “unable to survive without constant assistance.” But even so, there is something wild and ancient in their sharp little eyes and their clawed, scaly legs; in the way they tilt their heads from side to side and think about how they would totally eat me if only they were a little bigger. If only.

This is not the first TTH post that ends on a note of gratitude and my life certainly does have its rough spots, but I had to sit back this afternoon to stop, consider, and appreciate things as they are right now. Not only was I lucky enough to take a trip to a place I love, the trip was for a job which treats me well and friends who are my coworkers; people whom I respect and enjoy in both capacities. People who have gone out of their way to make my life better, and succeeded. When I came home, I was greeted by beloved doggies, a tiny home to call my own, and a man who loves me. And, of course, a coop full of new chickens. Ridiculous, stupid, thoroughly enjoyable chickens. It’s not a bad way to live.


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