The Healing Power of Raising Chickens

“Well, you can always get pullets. They have their adult feathers and are old enough that you can guarantee you won’t get a rooster.”

“No,” I said. “I want day-old chicks. I guess I am willing to accept the possibility of a rooster.”

“Ok, but be warned. New chicks are needy and poopy.”

Needy and poopy. I am prepared to deal with that. Our house was missing a bit of that.

My neighbors in Omaha had had a small flock of five and on occasion I had been asked to care for them when they were away. I was in love. Of course, they were under my care during the hottest days in July and I was worried they would all die on me. I was a Google maniac for those three days, finding ways to keep them cool and hydrated. It was then that I knew. I wanted my own flock of girls some day. Some day when these human boys were less needy and less poopy.

Finding myself surprise pregnant with Reece had rearranged our lives. Among much bigger things was the quiet dream of chickens. Postponed to some day. When Reece died, those quiet things stirred, slowly at first. Maybe we could get chickens this spring. I started reading and researching. It was nice to have a positive distraction, even if only for an hour at a time. I assured my husband that I wanted to just see what we were in for first, no commitment. I joined an online backyard chickens group to ask questions and gain insight.

Then one day, my uncle offered me his old coop. I said yes, deciding that even if it stayed outside empty, it was still free. It was delivered. Then another day my yoga instructor lent me her chicken raising book. By February, I asked my husband if we could jump. Maybe it was the excitement on my face, the twinkle in my eye about tiny babies, but he couldn’t tell me no. On March 22nd, we went as a family and brought home four tiny fluffy chicks. “Some day” was that day.

That first night, I sat out in the garage next to their tub and just watched them. I fretted, just as a new mom would over a new baby. Were they too hot? Did they know where the water was? Were they drinking it? I stared and stared at them breathing as they slept.

“My God, please don’t die on me tonight,” I thought to them as I watched them breathe. I knew, and my husband knew, this wasn’t just about chickens. When a baby is born and that baby dies, the need to nurture is overwhelming. I was pouring everything into my growing boys but they just plainly didn’t need me as much. These chicks needed tending at least three times a day to clear their water, check their food, and offer a snuggle. For a woman eager to serve, it was a good use of my time. My empty arms were busy.

Having such fragile babies under my care caused a bit of anxiety for about a week. Enter Jessica. She responded to my questions online. When I messaged her directly, she was able to provide me with guidance and assurance. I admitted to her that it wasn’t just about the chicks, it was a bit of redemption after the death of my unborn son. I can still nurture and protect something small and alive and dependent on me for care. Both me and the boys enjoyed handling these tiny peeping poop machines.

We each picked out a name. My oldest liked the yellow chick and named her Delilah. My husband wanted to use a military radio call sign that was never used during his command and named one chick Stiletto. I named the other brown chick Peanut Butter and my two year old, with his love of motors and limited vocabulary, named his black chick Motorcycle. This gig was pretty all right. They not only lived but began to grow. And they grew fast and changed faster.

Much the way human babies do, they began to develop personalities and quirks. Motorcycle, our Barred Rock, had some serious camera love. And by love, I mean she loves to peck at it. It was warming up outside. We would cart the chicks outside for some grass and some sunshine almost every day.  My husband and his friend began building the chicken run.

My husband, with the help of his handy tool-laden friend, did an amazing job. He was merely along for the ride, but he spent about three weekends cutting, drilling, nailing, and roofing the most amazing enclosure. He is simply my rock. I told him once before we ever brought these babies home that this was about more than chickens. Reece was indeed our last human baby. Still, the desire to nurture a small thing was overwhelming. My husband not only didn’t tell me no but he said, “Ok, I’ll help.” The babies weren’t so much babies any more. They were starting to crowd their cage and it was warm enough by mid-May to bring them outside for good.

As they grew into teenagers, we noticed they were starting to make real chicken sounds instead of the sweet baby peeping. Peanut Butter did not look like the rest of the girls and it wasn’t but a few days that he didn’t sound like the rest of the girls, either. Just as our luck would have it, Peanut Butter was indeed a dude. I found him a farm home with Beth where he could go on the condition I was okay he would eventually become dinner. When you name a chick after a food, that’s just what you get, I guess. Peanut Butter chicken.

I was able to let him go, knowing he had lived a free-range life his whole life. I told Beth about Reece and why we had chickens. She listened and promised Peanut Butter would have a good life and one bad day. Losing Reece had reset my perspective on life. I could handle losing a chicken.

So we were down to three. And they grew and they grew and they grew. They were entertaining and I could feel my broken heart beginning to scab over. My heart will never be the same, but these chickens brought joy and revived a little piece of who I was before I was Mom.

Jessica, who had answered all of my questions was now my egg supplier and my friend. She would even deliver to our front door due to the fact her daughter’s daycare was in my neighborhood. We talked often both online and in real life. She came back to see my flock and praised our set up. I told her of Peanut Butter’s fate and she made me an offer. She was willing to sell me two new pullets to add back to the flock. A flock of five. A family of five. I couldn’t resist. We discussed it in the following weeks and waited until these “younger girls” would be big enough to hold their own against my current girls. Then “some day” became that day.

I overheard my oldest telling his brother as we drove home, “These chickens lay chocolate-covered eggs.”

Ooh, sorry to disappoint, son. They lay chocolate COLORED eggs. They are Black Marans. That’s a fancy title for black birds who lay brown eggs. And not any time soon, they were younger, still making that sweet baby peeping sound. Introducing Cadbury and Lady Godiva.

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The new girls and the bigger girls settled in after a few days. Then just a few days ago, I requested more eggs. My friend came to see all of us. When she handed me the eggs, she also handed me a slip of paper. It was the check I wrote her for the new pullets. She said she didn’t want the money, the bank was far away, she didn’t do mobile banking. Maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t. That day was the 8th month anniversary of Reece’s birth.

“I saw what you guys did with the Cuddle Cot,” she said plainly. She didn’t have to say much else. She saw my heart and I saw hers. This wasn’t just about chickens. We stood in my driveway and we cried together for a minute over an uncashed check and two dozen eggs. When I moved to Lincoln, I had hoped Reece would introduce me to new friends. And here she was. Jessica, my new friend in Lincoln. Jessica my chicken-raising guru who saw my broken mother’s heart. She knew. There is healing power in tending something small and dependent when you are hurting. There are good people in this world when the sky falls down. It is likely those good people have chickens in their backyards.

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