Daughter takes on chickens

As parents, we tend to think we’ve seen it all. From projectile spit-ups to teenage pranks, diaper blow-outs to drivers’ ed, it sure feels like we’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

And heck, even if we don’t have a clue, we know that we need to act like we’ve seen it all, since kids are experts at finding and exploiting any perceived weakness. Still, every now and then, the student becomes the master, and it’s really neat to see.

When we started raising chickens, it began as a misunderstanding, then spiraled out of control. We were just going to get some banties for the kids to keep as “farm pets” (ah, how naïve we were back then!), but hubby said to get some that laid eggs. A few years and a whole lot of money later, it appears that we still have a lot of “farm pets.”

Aside from the occasional Silkie or Cochin Bantam, we kept utilitarian breeds: Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons and Easter Eggers, learning through trial and error that some fancy breeds just weren’t suitable for our level of chicken keeping.

Add to the equation the fact that the majority of the “fancy” roosters I brought home turned out to be bloodthirsty terrors, and I became very interested in docility in addition to utility.

This year’s brood (after twice replacing the flock with adult hens early this spring—dang bobcats) was selected for utility and personality.

The Phoenixes were the only breed not known for outright friendliness, but then again, I’ve never seen a mean Phoenix, plus, they’re pretty!

I was especially looking forward to the Dark Brahmas, who are known for docility and large size. After all, big chickens have a harder time becoming airborne, and when there are sharp beaks and spurs involved, that’s a good thing. I got straight runs of Phoenixes, Cochins and Brahmas, hoping for a few good flock roosters.

I also decided my daughter was ready to take over the reins this year. She took over the chicken operation after the shipment of chicks arrived. She recruited her little brother to help with the heavy lifting, but did a great job of staying on top of things. When it came time to move the youngsters out to the big coop, she had only lost two, which I thought was pretty stellar.

I knew she had been taking care of feeding and watering—again, using her little brother to distract the birds while she entered the coop. I knew she spent extra time in the coop talking to them, petting them, and picking them up.

I was not, however, prepared for what would happen when her herd of birds was ready to get out and free range.

Apparently, she did such a great job of caring for them that they all, every last one of them, think that humans are the most wonderful things on the planet, and that they must be as close to humans as possible.

Being surrounded by 40-odd chickens can be a little daunting, let me tell you. In the past, I had to carry food and holler “chookie chookie chookie” to get any to show interest—aside from the bloody-minded roos who were bent on world domination.

Now, stepping outside the door will get you surrounded by a herd of birds, quietly “berk”-ing and hoping for treats or cuddles. Bend over or squat down, and chances are that two or three will assume that you want a chicken to pat and happily come over to oblige you.

Especially Melba. Er, Melvin. Heck, the silly bird has a name change every time my daughter sees him. We originally thought he was a hen, since he’s so affectionate. Looking up the breed, I was able confirm his “roosterness.”

This bird will literally cross the yard to come say hello, inspect your shoes, and look at you funny until you pick him up, at which point you can almost hear the goofy thing purr. He’s fearless to the point of approaching my SUV right after I pull up in the driveway. If I leave the door open while I grab my purse, he’s at the door, looking for all the world like he wants to take a turn at driving.

Until now, I was perfectly happy if the chickens stayed alive, laid a few eggs and didn’t attack anyone. The kiddo’s herd of birds actually makes chickens fun to have, besides just being (mostly) peaceful to watch and a source of nourishment. I’ve got to say, it’s a pretty great feeling seeing your child do better than you do at something.

My mom told me once that every phase of childhood would be my favorite as a parent. Turns out, she was right again. As much as I miss those days when they were so tiny and stayed where I put them, I’m really enjoying seeing the kiddos come into their own and find their strengths.

It’s nice to have the occasional intelligent conversation with them. And yes, it’s pretty cool to enjoy a tame herd of chickens.

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at shotah76@yahoo.com.