Monday, August 11, 2008

Egg countdown

I counted forward from the date we got the chickens and realized last week that we're close to the magic number -- 18 weeks -- when our hens will be old enough to begin laying eggs.

Of course, we do still have our fingers crossed that they're hens. Their voices are changing, like adolescent boys. Mathilda and Wilma now make clucking noises, and Wilma occasionally lets loose a loud honk.

One of my colleagues whose chickens are about the same age recently discovered that one is a rooster. Tell-tale sign: early-morning crowing. Additional evidence: a bossy manner and a curling plume of a tail. I think he has decided to slaughter it, following the philosophy of Michael Pollan the author.

All of our chickens have straight, short tail feathers, and Mathilda, who has almost no comb or wattles at all and the very shortest tail feathers, is the bossiest.

I just couldn't slaughter my own chicken, even if one does turn out to be a rooster. I'm a coward. I don't even like squashing bugs, and my daughter forces upon me a moral dilemma every time she finds a moth in her room, since she's terrified of moths (go figure) and they cannot be easily caught bare-handed without damaging the wings. I try to catch and release, but it's time-consuming and it doesn't help to know that the moth will probably be dead in a week anyway.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The origin of names

Wilma the chicken is named after my grandmother Wilma, who was born into a railroading family and grew up in a small town in Arkansas. She eventually married a successful, cigar-chomping man in the advertising industry, and moved to Washington D.C. The two of them traveled frequently to Europe, and when I was a kid, they would send us package of souvenirs from Rome and France and Spain. Wilma my grandmother could play "Kitten on the Keys" on the piano, owned a mink coat, and had a suitcase with stickers plastered on it from famous European hotels, like Hotel de Crillon in Paris.

Most likely she wouldn't have been especially flattered to have a chicken named after her. But now I think of her every time I think of Wilma the chicken.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Early risers

One thing about having chickens is that, for better or worse, I rarely sleep in now. If it's a sunny morning, I wake up at 7 a.m. and immediately start thinking about the need to get the chickens out of their coop. (Of course, on weekdays I wake up at 7 anyway, but now I get up at that hour on the weekends, too, even without an alarm to wake me.) Usually, by the time I get out to the coop, the chickens are making a bumping, thumping racket in the coop -- it sounds like they're body-slamming the door. I have even seen Wilma try to fly out the tiny plexiglas window -- haven't they figured out by now that they can't do that?!!

So, that's the bad, never being able to sleep in. The good is that summer mornings are so lovely in Seattle, especially when it's already sunny by 7 a.m. The rays of the sun slanting across the yard, the cool shadows cast by our big Douglas firs and the pleasant sounds of flickers and songbirds all add up to a peaceful, serene start to the day.

I usually make myself a cup of tea and then go outside and sit on the little bench at the end of the chicken run. The companionable chickens hang out at the far end of the run with me, preening their feathers in the morning sun while I sip my tea and plan my day. There's little traffic at that hour so I almost feel like I'm in a park, although occasionally I hear a boat down at the Ballard bridge tooting its horn to make the bridge tender raise the bridge.