I was going through old PRINT photos (remember those?) over the summer and found this. On his knee rests a bucket full of eggs and in his hand a partially smoked cigar. Behind him a large 55 gallon container of feed and an old leaning dog house. Outside of view the closest thing to a pet dog he’d ever known is dodging the camera.
Hazy mornings he would wait for me to roll out of bed even though it meant putting off his chores. Upon site of my young, groggy face he would invite me to put my work boots on and grab a bucket as I perked up at the idea of feeding the chickens and gathering eggs with one of my favorite people. My granddaddy.
Out in the yard (it was barely a yard) there were skittish cats waiting to be fed-of which he was quick to remind me that if I’d just visit more often they’d be more tame. We walked past the propane tank and the small broken toy tractor on a dirt path to the tall hand-built fence. During summer the weeds almost reached my head as keeping a tidy yard was the least of his concerns. He’d open the fence and let me into the majority of his land. A large dirt patch. Multiple chicken coops. Dog houses with beagles he’d trained. And birds, birds, birds. My young ears would listen with tightly closed lips to his explaining what I always heard and never remembered. That which was bird breeds, the eggs they laid, their temperaments, whether they found a way to roost in trees or in the coop, or if a sly fox had slid in and took one without permission. There were chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese and on and on and on. Even fighting roosters which he kept separate in sturdy cages for hobby and beauty rather than for fighting. It was a rhythmic ritual. With a beat and a pattern. Never for lessons, but ever for the smell of dust in my nose and the site of chickens scampering to meet us.
With the feeding of the dogs there was firm control for dominance. Never allowed to eat without a word given for permission. They were considered “dirty creatures,” not to be coddled and let in doors. But such is the way of raising hunting dogs. The geese occasionally tried to hiss with teeth bared at my small frame, only to meet the brunt of his steel toed boot. “Not at my granddaughter,” he’d say. And I felt safe.
The masses of fowl had long since scooped up all grass and plant life in his yard turned run. So I tossed buckets of yellow corn while he called “Here chick chick chick!” to alert feeding time. And then eggs. Eggs upon eggs upon eggs. He’d point out all the nesting boxes and hidden nooks and crannies. It was my favorite part. Egg collecting time.
We’d always leave his large rustic house with several dozen eggs-all different colors: Brown, white, specked, and yes, blue and green and pink.
Now fast forward to twenty years later, a move to Denver and the passage of a law that allows chickens (hens only) in the city of Denver. With the smell of my granddaddy’s cigar still in my nose, I made a move to get chickens in my own backyard.
The first day of getting new chickens I sat outside, still in my pjs, while my boyfriend moved around the yard doing odds and ends. I stared at them, simply loving them, for 2, maybe even 3 hours. All I could feel was how I felt when I was little, prancing around outside with these tiny beasts. Listening to their noises, watching them duck in and out of the coop. I was in heaven.
It’s been about a month now since they have taken ownership of the yard. The first week or two consisted of frequent calls to my now elderly and chickenless granddaddy who is full of valuable life experience with the egg layers. These days he needs a walker to get around, but his wealth of knowledge is still as deep as when I was seven. No need for a heat lamp (although many city dwelling chicken owners use them-how ever did chickens survive before electricity?), hand feed them so they know you as the food provider, keep them in the run for a while so they know where they are supposed to roost, give them warm water when it’s cold, clip their wings when you let them out of the coop (meaning the feathers only) and so on. Having my granddad’s advice and experience has been invaluable and been a great bonding experience for the two of us. I feel like I get to keep a little bit of our walks with the chickens in my heart as I too call them “chick-a-babies” (a name I swear I’d heard him use) and call “Here chick chick chick!” to alert them to feeding time.
So now I am waking up with the sunrise, filling water bowls and tossing feed on the ground. I am collecting eggs in the afternoon and shutting the chickens in with the sunset. I am getting forced into a regular sleep schedule, something I wouldn’t have without chickens awaiting the dawn. I am learning the values of a steady lifestyle and I am loving it. And I am thinking of my granddaddy.
Oh, chicken love.