Chicken . . .

So I’ll admit something, something I’m not proud of. Duck eggs kind of creep me out.

Don’t get me wrong– they’re absolutely the superior egg for baking. And ducks are WAY more healthy, hearty, and sustainable than chickens. Our ducks have never once been sick. Our chickens, over the years, have had fowl pox twice, along with lots of mysterious deaths that we’ve attributed to heat stress and (often) sheer stupidity. Plus, snakes. Snakes love chickens, but so far have ignored the ducks and their oversized eggs.

But still, when you watch a duck feed, you’re watching an animal that revels in playing in its own poop. They are aggressive feeders, which means that they will happily scarf down a pound of spiders, cockroaches, and flies and still have room for some beetles and moths. They’re so happy to have water on the ground that they’ll sieve through every drop of mud in search of something edible. Which is, most often, their own poop.

It makes eating their eggs just a WEE bit nasty. Chickens aren’t any better, of course, but at least (with a good breed of chicken) their eggs LOOK like the sourceless and anonymous eggs from the grocery store, so I can play a little mind game with myself that the chicken eggs are just as bland and spider-less as the grocery store eggs. And I love the idea that fresh eggs from well-fed chickens are healthier for you. I just . . . okay, I just hate the idea that part of my breakfast contains re-assembled spider proteins. There it is. My shame, as a mini-farmer. I find the inter-connectedness of life very theoretically wonderful . . . until it’s spiders in my food.

Growing up in Arizona meant that spiders were very visible and very dangerous. Black widow spiders seemed like they were everywhere– glistening black with that ruby red hourglass on their abdomens. I lived in terror that I’d get bitten by one and end up in the hospital. When we were out in the desert hiking, we’d sometimes see tarantulas. And, although tarantulas are pretty amazing as spiders go, they also look perilously like they’d love to munch on a seven year old, don’t they? I was convinced that they would, anyway. And while my terror of spiders didn’t become a full-blown phobia, the fact that daddy long legs spiders practically DRIPPED from all the walls was enough to severely creep me out. Tell me whatever stories you wished about how they didn’t bite, the things were just WAITING to prove you wrong. And bite me.

So I’m chicken, okay? Spiders make me shudder. And snakes, snakes are so terrible that I pretend, very well, that I am open to the idea of the children owning a snake . . . but, you see (I explain patiently), snakes also carry salmonella, and we can’t own a snake with a child under the age of 5 in the house. Or with someone with an immune system problem. Or, well, with a handicapped child. I’ll find a reason, trust me.

This weekend, though, flush with the notion that we won’t be moving to Romania anytime soon (although it would be interesting), I went out and bought four new baby chickens. My five year old accompanied me, and saved me from buying ducks and guineas as well (he wanted a rabbit, though.) Two brown ones with streaks and spots and two black ones with teeny tiny bits of white on them. I’m hoping that they turn out to be something good for egg production, but you never can tell. Right now, at their tender age, they’re more pets than anything. They’re living in the garage, locked inside a dog crate to keep the children from accidentally squishing them to death with too much handling. The baby says that they’re “Little baby birds, Mommy. Can I grab one?” He likes to grab them. They don’t enjoy it so much. We spend a lot of time sitting in the garage, watching the baby birds be cute and letting him pet them (gently, with one finger, on their fluffy little heads and backs.)

Eventually, they’ll be big stinky chickens, living outside in our soon-to-be-remodeled coop. Hubs has already torn down the previous coop and we’ll be re-using the wood to build a smaller and more easily-cleanable version. Like anything, you learn by making mistakes. Our first coop had a lot of problems that didn’t seem like problems at first, but once you get actual chickens into them, all of a sudden you discover all the millions of things that can go wrong.

But for now, they’re filling that need to own a pet which has been nagging at all the children lately. We’ve had discussions about cats, dogs, rabbits, and guinea pigs, and the answer has to be “no” for all but the guinea pigs right now. Life’s too complicated and money is too short for us to embark on yet another quest to find a good dog. And cats, well. We have lingering cat pee issues around here already, so bringing a new cat into the house would just create more problems. I already have to scrape most of the soil out of the flowerbed in the front yard, replace it with non-peed-on soil, and then mulch it all again. Expensive AND troublesome.

I guess I’m chicken, in a way. We’ve had nothing but bad luck with dogs since I had to euthanize my Great Pyrenees, Bramwell, seven years ago. Eventually, that streak of bad luck has to end, doesn’t it? We have to keep hope alive that there’s a good dog out there for us. We kept faith alive for six grueling months, praying and hoping and wishing that hubs would get a better job and, finally, this week, he did. It took a lot of footwork, though, and it still requires sacrifices. It’s much simpler to keep looking for a new dog until we find the right breed, the right breeder, and the right animal.

Faith is a tricky thing, though. It’s easy to chicken out when things get tough. But buying chicks is an exercise in believing that things will be okay in five months, when they finally start to lay eggs. It’s looking into the future and saying, yeah, we’ll be fine. I’m trying to believe that with all of my heart and all of my mind. It’s hard sometimes, but, in the end, I can’t be chicken. I have to be Mommy and wife and primary cheerleader for all these endeavors, even when they sound a little perilous and a lot crazy. I’m not a natural optimist, but you have to learn to be one in order to cope with life these days. There’s so many negatives out there– if you try to be a “realist”, you’ll drown in the possibilities. I try to be positive. The odds against any tiny individual making it today are terrible. But one tiny individual, with the force of a family’s love and support behind them, just may make it. Somebody needs to be the mother hen, to little tiny chickens or to big gangly humans. Guess that’s my job. Humble as it may be. 🙂

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About Marti Booker

Writer of fantasy and historical fantasy fiction, mother of 6, former nurse, Catholic convert, wife of 25 years, and general all-around geek. Warning: Do not attempt this at home. View all posts by Marti Booker

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