Two years ago, in the spring, Don's cell phone rang at 4:00AM. It was the Post Office saying his chicks had arrived and to please come pick them up. They were peeping like they had something to crow about.
Since then he has bought more, and some he raised from eggs his chickens laid.
The Polish chicken varieties have spiky head feathers that resemble Samuel Beckett's hairdo. My Dutch sister-in-law Astrid named this one Kuifje (which I believe means this kind of top-heavy hair).
The two chicks below left are Polish, Honey is in the middle. You can already see their dominant bird brains, ha. You'll see more of Honey, below, when she's grown up.
Memorial Weekend 2008 was the first time Don let his first flock of chicks, the Ornamentals, out of the coop. Honey already needed a feather cut, because she couldn't see. So Lesley held her while Don played barber. Peter was Dr. Doolittle.
Don has also raised quail, ducks and turkeys. Last Thanksgiving he gave his organic, free range turkeys to many families around Michigan.
After more than two years of feeding and watering twice a day -- including in the deep freeze of Michigan winters -- cleaning coops, brooding, hatching, and gathering eggs, Don has decided to gradually thin the herd and be done with raising birds altogether. We don't eat eggs or chicken any more, and so raising them just to give away or sell is losing its appeal. Plus, we can't stay away more than one night, so we're feeling tied down. Don has raised some birds for meat to sell, but the first batch we got, the Ornamentals, we raised for farmy ambiance, and eggs. We named that first group, like members of the family. We would never, ever eat them.
Bob the Crèvecœur raped and pillaged. Squanto and Khan bit the hand that fed them. They, um, got the axe.
Our girls who were named have all been sold in the last few weeks to nearby farmers, except Jolie, who got sick and died this past spring.
At full coop Don had 116 birds. Now, all that are left are 8 turkeys, 7 quail, 7 chickens and 2 ducks. All the birds we named are gone. He wants to sell the rest, and by Thanksgiving in November, when these turkeys will be 30-40 pounds dressed out on a platter, he plans to be featherless.
When Don told me he was ready to be done with birds, I asked, What about Honey? What about Floozie?
He replied with a question, "Do you want to feed and water them?"
I was like a head with my chicken cut off.
I miss Honey, Floozie, Dahlia and Jolie running around the yard. (I don't think Bishop does.) But I did little or nothing to keep them alive, and as the saying goes, I shouldn't cackle if I haven't laid. Is it worth all Don's hard work, just for the pretty atmosphere they create on the farm? Do I want to venture out to the coop every morning and every evening, spring, summer, autumn and winter?
Don has promised Lesley that when she and Brian start a family, he will get chicks before they visit, so their kids can learn about animals, play with them, and gather eggs, as many kids have done here, like Kaeley, our niece.
Until that happy day when Lesley and Brian start their own nesting, ours will be empty.
Don has a blog called A View from the Green Barn, where he chronicled his chicken and other farm escapades. It's wonderful. He doesn't post much any more, but there is still a lot there worth reading.