THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
When Gwen the Beautiful and I first arrived on our mountaintop we were the proud but clueless inheritors of a dozen chickens left behind by the original owners. The brood consisted of three roosters and nine hens.
We had a big black rooster with a Rastafarian “hairdo.” A bigger yellow rooster who ruled the roost. A tiny banty rooster who got pecked any time he so much as looked at a hen.
And the hens he barely got to see were something indeed. Three big yellow hens who looked like divas from the Metropolitan Opera. Three plump red hens like dowagers in a Victorian novel. Three striped hens who would’ve made perfect throw pillows exactly as they were.
We gave all the chickens names, and took care of them as best we could. But time and attrition and our ignorance thinned out the group.
Maybe the fact that we named them all after food had something to do with it.
Although we didn’t eat them, it could be that the universe developed a hungering of its own for Chicken Cacciatore, Lemon Chicken, Chicken ala King, Cajun Chicken, Chicken Teriyaki, Orange Chicken, and—alas!—the big guy known as Stir Fry.
In a few years the banty rooster, “McNugget,” was the only guy left, and his harem was down to two yellow hens and two striped.
A young writer in the area came to the rescue, trading five Leghorn hens from his grandfather’s coop for some lessons in television writing. The Leghorn Girls, Lulu, Lola, Layla, Lila, and Trixie, were instant favorites with McNugget, and also with me.
Ah, what wonderful times we had together!
I sang back. “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” in the most chickenlike voice I could muster.
They ran all around the chicken yard.
I cleaned up what they left behind.
They ate delicious, nutritious meals of chicken scratch and egg pellets and the cheapest white bread I could find.
I tossed out the scratch and the pellets and the pieces of bread.
It was fun, actually, even if we ended up with more eggs than any two people ever could eat. I thought it would never end.
Then came our two blazing summers. The soaring temperatures and a disease the County Agent couldn’t identity took two of the remaining original hens and all but one of the Leghorn Girls, one by one.
“So long, Lola.”
“Hasta la vista, Layla, and Lila too.”
I tried my best to keep them alive, including antibiotics and a trip to the bird vet in Springfield, Missouri. But nothing worked.
Well, why not? They were like people to me. Friends. Every bit as individually distinguishable as our dogs and horses. More, even, than our cats.
After we said good-bye to Lila, Gwen said, “That’s it. No more chickens. We’re done.”
“Right,” I said. “We’ve still got McNugget and Chicken Vesuvius and Trixie. Let’s leave it at that.”
But that big, empty chicken yard sure looked forlorn. And feeding a measly three chickens just didn’t give me that Farmer Brody buzz.
So when Karen the Post Lady said, “My neighbor has Silkie hens he doesn’t have room for,” I said, “Put me down for twelve.”
At which point Gwen said, “Twelve hens?! What re you thinking?!”
And I said, “Okay, make that six.”
So for the last few months we’ve had nine chickens. Eight hens and their very happy banty man.
The Silkies are small and fluffy and cute. They run to greet me like toddlers when I come in to feed them and take their eggs. They stay close, and they join in the chorus when I do my “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” concert.
How long will they live? Got me. But I’ve learned a lot over the years. I know more about chicken diets. Their need for ventilation. Meds to give. And I’ll be watching them more closely than before.
There’s one thing I won’t do, though, and that’s name them. I’ll keep my emotional distance by letting them be just “the chickens.” No personal feelings involved.
But they do make me smile. Like they’re my little girls….
And, as I think about it, the little one that makes friends so fast—she kind of looks like a Gertrude to me. No, make that Gertie. And that one there in the back—if I ever saw an Ethel she’s the one….