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The Coop’s Been Flown

Our adventures with backyard chickens ended today. Early this morning, I took our 5 hens to a friend’s farm and watched as they were introduced to a barnyard full of hens and one happy rooster. They will be well cared for.

Tonight, as I looked out my kitchen window, instead of being amused at adventures in pecking order, I saw an empty coop and run.

Three and a half years ago, our adventures as urban backyard chicken owners began. We’ve gotten our one-day-old chicks in the mail, raised them, and enjoyed their eggs. We raised them in our utility room, slowly introduced them outside, and delighted when they laid their first eggs. When one ornery rooster drew first blood on my daughter, I drew second on him. Later, we gave a champion Rhode Island Red rooster we had raised to another farm that needed a new rooster.

When I made salads and prep produce, I’ve divided the scraps into 2 parts – the compost pile and the chicken run. Those hens were hilarious when they ate tomatoes, strawberries, sweet pepper seeds, and melon rinds. 

It was not by my choice that our adventures with chickens ended. Children who raise chickens grow into teens with busy schedules. They have to prioritize their time. My own business has grown such that some days I leave early and get home late.

When no one else in my family wanted us to keep them except for me, I had to bend.

I’ve learned more about poultry in the last 3 years than I ever imagined. Now, if I see a chicken, my first thought is what is its breed. For three years, I’ve delighted in each egg we’ve gathered and savored cooking with farm fresh eggs, sometimes warm just out of the nest box. Though we won’t have any more of our own eggs, I’ll never think of an egg the same way again.

And for awhile, just awhile, I’m not going to look out that kitchen window. Later, it will be easy.

So I guess I’m getting a taste of empty nest syndrome before my teens leave home.

The coop’s been flown.

City Chicken Slicker Flood Adventures

Two years ago, my daughter got her first chickens. Yes, we’re urban chicken owners. 

She loves animals, is in our county’s 4H Livestock Club and Future Farmers of America, and hopes to someday work in food and crop science.

She brought home 5 Rhode Island Red chicks that were three weeks old. We kept them in our utility room, in a bucket with a window screen on top. That spring, we weaned them outside to a backyard coop and run.

Then came a heavy spring rain of 6 inches in a single day – flash flood warnings abounded. That night, I waded through our backyard to see if they were alive. The coop was above water, in the highest part of the yard. 

I could hear loud peeping. When I opened the coop, the chicks were peeping frantically on one side, and a young possum was sitting on the other side. The young possum had somehow found its way into the coop with our birds.

“What do we do?” I phoned a farm friend.

“Kill it. If you leave the possum in there, the possum will eat the chickens alive, from the butt to the front.” We had no cage or alternative, and no stores were open.

My family joined me as we tried to figure out how to get the possum out of the coop. We grabbed tools from the garage. Richard caught the young possum with the kids’ old butterfly net. As he was pulling it out of the coop, the possum escaped through a hole in the net and began racing around the flooded yard.  We splashed around the yard with our flashlights, trying to find it.

Billy Crystal in City Slickers had nothing on us when we caught that possum.

“Found it!” Richard yelled. It was under the rock on which he was standing. “I think it’s dead.”

“It’s not dead! It’s playing possum!” I hollered.

My daughter lugged an ax from the garage, saying, “Here, Dad.”

The possum didn’t bother us again.  We splashed around the coop and run, flashlights in hand, trying to fill gaps in the fencing with rocks to prevent another possum attack before daybreak.

We still have hens. And we’ve had lots of eggs. But no more possums.

Lesson? As our kids follow their interests, if we let them, they’ll take us on unforgettable family adventures. Some with good eggs.

The Chicken Text

If hens could text, this is what they would say. Written to the tune of the Chicken Dance.

Our eggs are laid. Our eggs are laid. (They wave their beaks)

Come get them now. Come get them now. (They flap their wings.)

Our eggs are laid. Our eggs are laid. (They shake their tails.)

Come get them now. Come get them now. (They clap their beaks.)

Oh girls, let’s beware the rooster. He is prowling about.

We can outsmart him.  We’ll run faster, escape, and wear him out. (During the chorus, the hens race to outrun the rooster before he catches them.)

Repeat the song all morning. Then all afternoon. The hens win some and lose some. Until it’s evening and time for the chickens to come home to roost.

[For real time updates on this song, check the Tweeting Hen’s Twitter.]

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Chicken Little and Golgotha

Rooster in grass.
Image via Wikipedia

Pullus Parvus, otherwise known as Chicken Little, lived in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.  He was the best of all possible organizers, the top cluck, and he knew it.  When he crowed early each morning, all the other chickens in that tiny Roman province followed his lead.

One morning as he crowed, the people were shouting so loudly he had to crow twice as loud and long to signal all the other chickens that it was time to begin.  Strange – a crying man ran past him a little later.

Then the sky over the whole land suddenly grew dark. 

Chicken Little panicked and thought, “The sky is falling.  I will stop it.”

So he crowed and he clucked and he asked all his friends to crow and cluck with him.  If they made enough racket, the sun would return.

It stayed dark.  The earth began to shake and tremble.

Chicken Little panicked and thought, “The ground is going to split in half.  I will stop it.”

So he crowed and he clucked and called all his friends to join him.  As the earth trembled, they scratched and scritched, trying to hold the ground together, but they couldn’t stop it.  Chicken Little called out, “God, give me the power of Samson to stop this so I can hold our world together!”

It was still dark when a young chick squawked to Chicken Little and told him the curtain in the temple was tearing in half.

“I can’t allow that to happen,” said Chicken Little.  He sent word to his friends the sparrows to go to the temple and hold the temple curtain together with their beaks.  They failed.

Chicken Little was flat terrified.  He couldn’t make the sun return, he couldn’t stop the earth from shaking, and his instructions to the sparrows had failed.  He was out of control.

So Chicken Little fled the town of Jerusalem for the hills.  He hid on a hill, behind a bush, afraid of what would happen next.  He didn’t crow, for he was ashamed.

Three days later, he got scared again.  There was a huge rumble and a great light.  This time, he didn’t try to stop the rumble or return the sky to its normal color.  When the light became normal, Chicken Little decided the sky could not have fallen.  The sun was back.

He picked and clucked his way out behind the bush and saw Roman soldiers fallen to the ground. A tombstone had rolled from a tomb, and Chicken Little went inside.  He saw an angel sitting there and asked the angel,

“God made me to crow and keep all the birds of Jerusalem together. 

“But the sky turned dark and was going to fall.  I tried to stop it and failed.

“The ground shook and was going to split.  I tried to stop it with my friends, and we all failed.

“The curtain in the temple tore in half.  I tried to fix it by telling the sparrows what to do, and they failed.

“How can I ever believe in myself again?  How can I feel safe?

“This morning, the sun turned bright, and there was this rumble, and I did nothing because I was afraid.

“The sun is back in the sky, the sky did not fall, and the ground did not split.

“But I will never believe in my abilities again.  I am mad at God too – why didn’t He help me?”

The angel looked at the poor bird and told him, “Oh ye of little brain.  When the sky turned dark, God was with you.  When the earth shook, He was there too.  This morning when you saw that light and heard the rumble, it was the Son – not the sun.  He rose from the dead to save all mankind.

“This is a day for the birds to sing.  One day, at the end of the age, the sky will seem to fall.  Nothing anyone or anything does will change that.  We cannot worry about it now.  The Son, the Savior, just won the greatest battle of all time.

“Go, find your friends, and tell them to sing, cluck, and quack in honor of the King of Kings.”

Chicken Little scooted out of the tomb just as he heard feet running .  He summoned all the birds of Jerusalem to sing a new song and rejoice, for the Son of Man had saved the world – not Chicken Little.

After that day, Chicken Little still crowed every morning to summon all the other birds to the start of another day.  But when he crowed, he didn’t crow of his own power, or in pride of what he could do.

He crowed in honor of God.  He could use his talents to proclaim God’s glory but could not use them to play God.  And now Chicken Little knew the difference.

Christ taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  Sometimes when we try to stop the sky from falling and earth from shaking, we don’t know the big picture and don’t realize the hand of God is already there. 

When it happens, ask Him for guidance.  He will guide you as the Holy Spirit brings you peace.  As Jesus told the leader of the synagogue in Matthew 5:36, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

Happy Easter.

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