Last week, I lamented departure of longtime friends and clients, Tom and Rosie Rice.Tom took a new job down in Houston, Texas, and Rosie will just tag along like she always seems to do.
Tom called me out before leaving to vaccinate his two dogs and five cats, as they had to board in Texas while their new house was being finished up. As we finished catching the last cat, Norton, Tom paused to ask me if I might like to have his remaining three hens and a rooster. He even said he would toss in a waterer and about half a sack of feed and scratch (grit) if I took them.
"You know Matt, the hens still lay a good egg or two once a day," Rice said. "And, that rooster will guarantee you'll never need an alarm clock again, the way he crows.
"Right on schedule, yep, 5 a.m. every morning."
Tom was the kind of guy everyone grows to love, and I found it extremely difficult to turn down his offer, especially with all the accessories thrown in. I accepted and called my wife immediately, who, by the way, was a bit cautious, as we still had not broken our rat terrier, Minnie, of murdering our Easter pullets.
I assured her the rooster would peck the dog's eyes out if she got near his hens, so we would just give it one more try. We certainly were bent to be chicken fanciers, by golly, or maybe God was teaching us humility. Who knows His ways?
One night after work, Lea and I loaded a spare dog crate in the back of the station wagon and off we went to the Rice home. They were home and accommodated us by helping load the birds and some of the avian paraphernalia.
We got home in the dark and I decided to leave the birds locked in their kennel overnight, just in case they had designs on high-tailing it back home. The next morning, sure enough, the rooster had not missed a beat and was crowing at the crack of dawn.
That crowing seemed to put an icing on the cake, so to speak, for the aesthetics of our farmyard. He quit after the sun rose above the tree line to the east of our hay pasture.
We let the new arrivals out that morning under watchful eye. We also limited the dogs to short, supervised outings as we watched the bird-to-dog-to-bird behavior develop. (By and large, things went smoothly. By the way, Minnie was still serving her lock-up and was not allowed much contact.)
By the end of the day, Mr. Rooster and his harem of hens were settling in and seemed right at home. They also were taking care of the bugs in the yard. Also, having had a considerable bagworm problem, it appeared these new chickens were bent on digging up everything below the infested cedars.
What a deal, I was thinking. These birds were better than that malathcon I sprayed a while back. Seems they've earned their keep already.
The next day, after returning from church, Lea and I were surveying the yard and noticed the chickens were gone. We searched far and wide and finally found them taking refuge under the old pick-up. It had been unseasonably hot, as you well know, for an August day and who would have blamed any critter if he had not sought out the cool shade.
We peered under the old Ford and, low and behold, there they were -- three beautiful, brown eggs. I pulled the truck forward and retrieved those gems, having to contain my excitement, as if I were a child at an Easter egg hunt.
It crossed my mind that without a chicken coop every day will be an Easter egg hunt, only in the off-season. My childhood fantasy of old began to rise in my heart.
After dinner tonight, Lea and I sat ruminating over store-bought burritos while watching the Antique Roadshow. I looked over at my bride of more than 23 years and smiled. "Wanna go egg hunting? We never know where we'll find them ..."
I grinned as I followed her out the door to the yard near by. Low and behold, we found two lovely eggs. But this time, they were not under the truck, but in the dog crate we brought those birds home in.
You know, I am beginning to think those birds are trying not to tell me something.
"Better go out back round up the hammer, nails, saw and lumber. We're going to have a chicken coop raisin'."
"Better call in all the neighbors, Lea, and tell them to bring their kids. We'll have us and old-fashioned, off-season Easter egg hunt," I yelled to my sweetie as she made her way out to feed the horse, calf and ewes.