March 21, 2010

Once upon a time there was a chicken that I liked. The chicken—at this point sex unknown—was curious, friendly, always the first to “greet” me. He was the chicken that was not completely with his flock. The chicken that stepped to a different drum. When the flock was a little older and knew what was “home base”—the roosting spot in the coop—the 12 chickens were given their freedom. This chicken loved to wander just a little further. So, this chicken became my favorite chicken because of these endearing qualities.

Due to an unfortunate encounter with a predator soon after getting the flock of 12, one of these chickens “disappeared”. From this day forward I counted chickens to see if I had all eleven. One day in late July—Saturday, July 25 to be exact—I counted and recounted and recounted. Chickens tend to move around quite a bit and it is sometimes difficult to feel you have an accurate count, even with only eleven chickens. But sure enough there were only 10 chickens. And you guessed it. It was my favorite chicken that was nowhere to be found. This caused me great sadness. After searching on my own, I enlisted the help of farmer and landowner Jane, one who had much more chicken experience than my few weeks. Together we looked all around the barn. “Chickens can get in some pretty strange places,” she said. This search proved fruitless, rather, chickenless. I was distraught, but did not know what else to do.

A few days later I was on my way to Stratford, Ontario to the Shakespeare Festival, placing my chickens’ care in Jane’s hands. Still no sign of my favorite chicken. On Saturday, August 1, I had returned from Stratford the previous evening. I was cleaning the chicken coop when I saw an overturned feeding pan. Prior to being turned over, it had been unused and leaning against the wall of the coop. This small overturned pan began to move!

Oh my gosh, maybe it’s a rat!

Oh my gosh, maybe it’s a bunch of mice!

Oh my gosh, I thought the unthinkable—it couldn’t possibly be my favorite chicken under there?!

Quickly finding a long-handled hoe I slowly lifted the pan from the wood shavings on the floor of the coop. There to my delight and utter astonishment was my favorite chicken. Here-to-fore, always and forever after referred to as “F.C.” (Favorite Chicken). As time went on and friends heard my story of finding F.C. they said he should be called L.C. for Lucky Chicken, but to me he was always F.C. So out wobbled F.C. looking as if he had come back from the dead—his feathers completely matted, disheveled—total disarray. He limped over to the food and began to eat. Remember it had been exactly a week—Saturday to Saturday—that he had completely disappeared. Some of the other members of his flock began to peck him—he was an extremely weak chicken, so very much subject to the pecking order (quite literally). And after being “gone” for a week, as I’ve been told, the chickens probably did not recognize him as part of the flock. Both are apparently good reasons in the chicken world to peck a fellow chicken.

At this point I felt immensely relieved that he was hungry and beginning to eat. Just across on the other side of the coop, a few feet away was another smaller coop. I quickly set up food and water and placed him safely in his own coop. I must tell you that my emotions during all of this were very strong. Because of my newness with caring for chickens, I had felt inadequate and the thought of F.C. suffering due to my inexperience caused me many tears.

F.C. continued to gain in strength and at each of my visits he was glad to have my attention. For me and for him there was happiness—in whatever form you choose to believe that chickens can be happy. After about 1½ or 2 weeks it became clear that F.C. wanted to be back with his flock. He could see them. During their daytime roaming, the other chickens could come up to his fence. He was the one locked in, and they had their freedom. After two unsuccessful attempts at having him rejoin his flock—one or two of the other roosters attacked him—he was finally able to rejoin them after three weeks “in isolation.” It was quite obvious to me that he was happy to be with them. It was a more natural state for him, and yet, he was aware that he was low in the pecking order and must be wary.

From this day forward as I came to the barn (my routine was generally every other day, I live about 17 miles from the farm), F.C. was always the one that greeted me as I entered the barn. On some level we “knew” each other and he “knew” I had been his rescuer. Most of these days I tried to have something I could hand-feed him: greens, a small apple. I also made sure he could have full access to food, because he never was 100% included back into the flock.

As time passed he continued to greet me with his strong “cock-a-doodle-doo”, usually long before I even got close to the barn door, he knew I was on the farm. And so it was a joyful friendship: one inexperienced chicken “farmer” (me) and one very special chicken, F. C.

It has been a hard winter. My world is much quieter now. On January 30 our family lost our beloved 14 year-old beagle, Molly. And now, March 17, I have lost all my chickens to predators. On March 16th I discovered F.C.’s body in the coop. Luckily for me Farmer Jane was working at home and we buried F.C. Today, March 17th I placed a marker near where he was buried.

♥ F.C. – Diane’s Favorite Chicken ♥

I want to be known that on this farm there lived a very special rooster and he was loved.

Diane Thompson is Core Group Coordinator for Thornapple CSA


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