May 16, Pandemic Diary: Chickens!
Chickens. In the middle — in the end of the beginning — of this massive and frightening change that we are experiencing, I thought I’d write about raising chickens.
I personally am not raising them. I have little experience with poultry. I grew up a mile away from a turkey farm (disgusting). I dated a girl whose father owned a turkey farm. On our last date, we went walking through one of their fields when suddenly from over the hill, thousands of white turkeys descended on us and surrounded us. When one of the closest turkeys had a heart attack and died, and all the rest of the turkeys, well, jumped on the dead one, I might have reacted badly. I thought that the best strategy was to run. My poultry-adapted girlfriend laughed at me, thought I was too “citified,” and thus ended our relationship. She ended up marrying another turkey-farmer, so I guess it is a family kind of business.
Anyway. Back to chickens. My friend, Eric Zukerman, has been raising chickens — hens, he wanted me to be sure to point out — for a few years now. I thought that that probably was a focusing and rewarding activity to have when we are stuck at home.
This all began several years ago when his wife Catherine and his then four-year-old daughter Emma came home and told Eric they wanted chickens. Dutifully, he asked if they wanted roasted or fried, and they, looking horrified, said, no, they wanted to raise chickens.
And so began Eric’s foray into becoming a gentleman farmer.
They’ve had several broods since then, and they just bought their latest group of fifteen a few weeks ago.
This brood of chicks is currently residing in a hot tub in the house, entertained daily by classical music. One chick, a Spotted Sussex, always nestles up close to the speaker whenever the music is played.
Eric’s tasks are few and simple. He feeds them and makes sure they have water. But he goes beyond the bare minimum. In the morning, he has coffee with them and in the evening cocktails. These are the highlight of his days. “Chickens are therapeutic,” he told me. “You can’t help but smile . . . and they give you eggs! I’d be much more insane now if I didn’t have chickens.” He kinda laughed maniacally.
But he noted that chickens are often underrated. They are, he said, basically little dinosaurs. Once a sparrow flew into a window and dazed, fell into the chicken coop. Within seconds the chickens pounced on the sparrow and, much like my turkey encounter, demolished the bird. Velociraptors anyone?
Feed them. Water them. Protect them from the bears and bobcats. So goes Eric’s days now as we wait and wonder.
As we talked, we both came to the realization that the pandemic has proven that we are in control of little in our lives. That uncertainty reigns. Sheltering in place has brought many of us face to face with thoughts of mortality and loss.
Our high speed and complicated lives have ground to a halt. Denial, grief, and rage are giving way to acceptance. Now we are focused on routines that we can control. Basics that we need. Hopefully, empathy for those that are worse off than we.
Maybe raising chickens is an allegory, a story that we should think about now. We need something in our control, something we can pass the time with, that makes us smile, that is therapeutic.
Maybe, when all of this is over, or we have accommodated to a new normal, we will accept that the stuff we used to think was essential turns out to be small in the larger scheme of things. It could be that something as simple as raising chickens turns out to be meaningful and fulfilling. (and there are always the eggs!)
With crisis, with difficult times, comes growth and a deeper understanding of the drumbeats of life. Often, from troubles spring compassion and desire for simplicity. Another writer coined this time the “Great Pause.” Even amidst great suffering, we can pause and reflect on why we are here. How are we helping? How will we choose to live our live when this is a memory?
Although we will probably never raise chickens, I am learning to care more for the animals (and people!) around me. I am learning patience.
So take the time to reflect and maybe think about a brood of hens.
Be kind. Be brave. Follow the science.