A couple of years ago my dog Jack and I were taking a wee walk before bed. Wait, keep reading. Don't worry, this is not a dog story; it's about a chicken. Oh, and it was Jack that was gonna wee, not me. Jack is smiling at my small attempt at humor.
It was about midnight, a very dark night with no moon. Jack's eyesight is not all that great.
He sees okay when he is up close, like this:
Jack alerts when he sees anything move, anything at all. It can be a leaf, a squirrel, my neighbor's homemade wind chimes or even a plastic bag. When he started tugging at the leash trying to get to something on the ground I held him back saying, "Jack, that's nothing. It's only a plastic bag." But no, Jack insisted that he be allowed to check it out. No, Jack, I don't want to investigate your dumb plastic bag. I'm the grown up and I am smarter than a dog; I will show you that you are wrong.
So I gathered up a handful of pine straw (that's a southern thing; if this were Connecticut, I'd have picked up a small rock) and, taking careful aim, I chucked the pine straw at the plastic bag...and the bag clucked.
White plastic bags do not make clucking noises, not even at midnight on a moonless night. My status as the smartest one in the family is in trouble. Well, dang. Paint my face red and call me a stop sign. It's a chicken! My dog found a chicken. Good boy, Jack, you get a biscuit. Maybe I should get my own eyes checked?
Since I was positive the chicken belonged to my across the street neighbor who has chickens and roosters, I gathered up the chicken and, it being midnight and all, I had to find a place to keep the chicken safe for the night so I could return it to my neighbor. Note to self: The neighbor wakes up early. Remember to set an alarm so you can catch him before he leaves for work.
Not having a chicken coop of my own the only solution I could think of was to stash the chicken for the night in my zippy plastic greenhouse. This little greenhouse was brand new, just assembled and never had a single plant inside, just rows of neatly stacked plastic pots.
I thought to myself: The chicken should be fine in there for just one night; I'll return the chicken to my neighbor in the morning. Well, that was the plan anyway...but...keep reading.
Since my neighbor is Latino, I used my very best 'Spanglish' and some hand gestures to inquire if he had lost a chicken, a white chicken. He said, "No tengo gallinas blanco."
What did he say?
He said he has no white hens.
So I asked him whose chicken it was? At least I hope that's what I asked, my Spanish is not all that perfect. Oh my, he got this funny look on his face, kind of like Snydley Whiplash. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but he did have a funny look on his face. He used his right index finger to point directly at me to indicate that it was my chicken. Out of respect for readers who may be vegetarians or vegans, I will not tell you what he suggested I do with 'my' new chicken.
Great, just great. I carried my chicken home. I was now the proud owner of a single chicken and no chicken coop in sight. This will require some thought. Guess the chicken can continue to stay in the greenhouse while I make plans to build something more appropriate. The zippy plastic greenhouse is a good temporary coop, right? I mean, how long could it take to build a little house for a chicken? Building a coop for one chicken should be easy.
I wondered if she will ever lay eggs? How do I even know if this is a girl chicken? Research required.
Each day I checked and each day...nothing. Lots of poop. No eggs. Lots of flies wanted to join the party. I bought one of the long sticky fly-catching ribbon things - you know, the kind that you hang up nice and high (but not high enough!) and there you are before coffee half asleep with dead flies and sticky tape in your hair! This will require more research.
https://www.tractorsupply.com/... That kind is not good for sleepy people with any amount of hair.
Okay, let's try Plan B. I should say at this point that Tractor Supply was quickly becoming my best friend even though the store is 30 miles from my house. Ah, this one looks good!
https://www.starbarproducts.co... Yes, much better and safer for my hair.
You may think that since I wasn't finding any eggs that maybe it was a boy chicken? Okay, that's one possibility. Or maybe you think I didn't know what an egg looked like?
Look at this egg...Here, look more closely. That is an Anole lizard egg.
...when this egg hatches it will look like this and it will learn to hunt while hiding in the Clematis. Ooh, so pretty - Anole lizard on Sedum flower at the botanical garden. My favorite color is green. Too bad there are no green chickens. (Sorry the image is so HUGA; I'm still figuring out this add image stuff.)
Neither of these is an egg. They are eggplants. The first is a tiny yellow, slightly overripe Asian Eggplant. The second is an Ichiban Eggplant - gosh what a fun word - Ichiban. Say that three times fast.
Hmm, here are some eggs. I found these in a nest inside an old metal watering can, a gift from a gardening friend. These are not chicken eggs; they are the eggs of a tiny Carolina Wren. See the watering can? The Carolina Wrens thought this looked like a good place to make a nest. Turns out they had good judgment. They raised a fine family of little ones. It's really difficult to take a photo of a bird on a nest built inside a watering can. They should teach this stuff in school. The birds were a bit camera shy and they sure were noisy - but they were much too fast for my digital camera to capture an image. This is the best image I could capture.
I wonder if it is always this difficult to photograph eggs?
Oh wait; I just remembered something. I used to teach classes so people could learn to make a type of decorated Ukrainian Easter Eggs called Pysanky. They look like this...
I would be very surprised if any chicken were to lay eggs like this. Well, what I mean to say that yes, a chicken was involved but that was before the candle was lit and dye and wax were applied. People still exchange Pysanky eggs at Easter similar to exchanging a greeting card - don't tell Hallmark about this or they might try to corner the Pysanky market. Remember to buy stock in the Hallmark Company if this happens.
Now that we understand that I DO know what an egg looks like...I will continue to search for eggs. Hmm, maybe this really IS a boy chicken?
But wait!!! Success! An egg!
Okay, not trying to win the Abe Lincoln award but, I have to be perfectly honest. The fine-looking egg in the photo is not the very first egg. Grab a cup of tea and get comfortable; I will explain. Let's go back to a few days [i[before[/i] I found this perfect egg.
For days and days I looked for eggs...well, I guess I already told you that, right?... and no eggs. I was ready to give up on this girl or is it a boy?. Each day I brought food, lots of food, and water, lots of water which she or he happily spilled. At least the chicken had clean feet. On good days she/he was allowed to play in the garden and hunt for insects. Don't worry, my dog Jack was securely tied and happily digging in a different part of the garden. Each night I convinced the chicken to go into the plastic zippy greenhouse to be safe for the night. Yes, I still planned on building a coop. Keep your feathers on. Then one evening the chicken refused to go into the little greenhouse. The chicken was hiding under the house.
Okay, technically it's not a house. At that time, I lived in a metal box on wheels. A 1965 Statler model mobile home that used to keep me warm and dry but now does neither. Some nights I thought I would be better off sleeping in the zippy plastic greenhouse with the chicken. If you think I am exaggerating, look for yourself. Front view of my 'house'. Even after I cleaned it up a bit it only looked this good...the 'house' didn't get any newer or any larger. It's still a metal box except now it is partially hidden by a Rubbermaid Tool Shed, and the viewer's eye is drawn to the attractive new patio blocks.
Can we please get back to the story? Okay, back to the story...the chicken was under the 'house'.
Okay, back to the chicken. He or she wouldn't come out from under the trailer. I tossed a few things at the chicken in an attempt to get him or her out in the open, a stick, a rake, a broom, a hoe. Nope. I learned two things: One - I have a bad aim at throwing things under a house. Wasn't any good at skipping rocks on the lake either. Two - The chicken would not budge. Stubborn chicken. I'm beginning to think it might be a female.
Seemed that I had no choice but to pretend I was a raw Army recruit and crawl on my belly under the house, er, trailer to retrieve him or her. This was my view under the trailer...guess it hasn't been cleaned in a while. Probably not since 1965.
I kept my butt down to avoid prying eyes, bird droppings, snakes, and sniper fire, slowly inched forward on my elbows and toes...gradually making progress, praying there were no Black Widow spiders crawling with me... or on me.
Hold on a minute! What is this?
I blurted out an expletive. I won't tell you what I said but your cand find the words here:
Hey, don't laugh. That's a real breakfast food, wow! And quite tasty, too!
In a shallow indentation in the sand under the trailer, there were...let me count them, one, two, three - looks like 18 eggs. My vision was a bit blurry. I shook my head, squeezed my eyes shut and look again. Oh, sorry. My eyes are fine; it's only the photos that are blurry.
Again I ask myself, Is it always this difficult to photograph eggs?
No wonder she...SHE...SHE didn't want to go into the zippy greenhouse. She had made herself a nest in the sand under my house. Good girl, you get a biscuit, er, some crumbles, some mealworms. Guess I gotta drive over to Tractor Supply again... So she's a girl. A female chicken. A gallina. Wait until I tell my Latino neighbor!
I will save myself some embarrassment and not describe what I must have looked like to the neighbors as I crawled out from under the trailer. The reality of it is that I actually had to crawl under the trailer a second time with a bowl to carry out the eggs and a camera to document my amazing discovery.
Not knowing how old some of the eggs might be, I put them in a bowl of water and discarded any that were floaters; cleaned the good ones with a vinegar/water bath and here is what the good eggs looked like.
[Please note: This article was written before I knew that it was not necessary to wash the eggs. I know better now.] Well, golly gee. Another reason to head back to Tractor Supply; need to purchase an egg skelter like this:
That was only the beginning...Jack and I enjoyed fresh eggs almost every day. Sometimes the chicken would skip a day and there would be no egg. But then again some days she outdid herself and produced a double-yolk egg. I was impressed with the chicken's talent and gave her much praise along with some crushed eggshells.[Note to self: The heat was too high when cooking that egg.]
Wow, I can remember the first time I ever saw a double yolk egg. When I was twenty-one I was on a camping trip with friends, we climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire...First, we camped at Great Gorge, in the morning we climbed via the Tuckerman's Ravine trail and came down via the Jewell trail...best walk in my life! [Note: I did not know at the time that this is one of the most difficult and dangerous hikes, duh]...the following morning we stopped at a small restaurant for breakfast. Naturally, I ordered eggs. The locals went crazy. Why are they excited that I ordered eggs; doesn't everyone eat eggs for breakfast? Seems that it had been a slow day so the local boys were making bets on which egg would contain a double yolk. Yep, I should have put some money down because my egg was the winner. A double yolk egg, first one in my life.
Okay, since this is now officially a hen and not a rooster, I planned to keep her. Of course, she needs a name. I asked my daughter to suggest a good name. Daughter got a sly look on her face and said, "Henrietta". What? Don't you like it? It's a good name for a chicken.
After a bit of tender loving care, a lot of chicken feed and several Rube Goldberg attempts to keep the water bowl from getting overturned, finally, Henrietta became a good looking, healthy chicken. Here she is having a lovely day out helping in the garden.
Henrietta's gonna need a coop and it's a cinch I won't be asking the Easter Bunny to help build it. I shall build it myself.
It will look like this.
It will have a door that is secure and metal cans to keep the food and bedding clean, safe, dry and free from vermin.
There needs to be a chicken ladder and a whisk broom to keep things tidy.
I'll need to make a nest box...
No, no, no. Wrong! That is not a nest box. It's not even a call box.
This is a nest box. It may be simple in design but when it comes time to gather eggs it will work better than a portable toilet.
I will build a chicken coop SO amazing that people will flock to see my flock!!
Well, that's pretty much the story of the chicken. We had no idea where Henrietta came from or how old she was when Jack found her at midnight so long ago. After being a good, hard-working chicken, keeping us company in the garden and providing us with eggs for almost two years, Henrietta went to Chicken Heaven early one morning. She was a good old girl and will be missed. I had a tear in my eye when I had to buy eggs at the grocery store.
Walking once again at midnight with my dog...can you believe it??? What are the chances of this happening twice in a lifetime? We found another chicken! Here, look for yourself...
Since I already know that my across-the-street neighbor has no white hens this one must belong to the people who live in the house near the stop sign. I'll be right back...have some more tea while you wait. I won't be gone long.
Thanks for waiting for me. I just walked back from the stop sign. Not good news. The people in the corner house said the chicken is not their chicken, but they were nice enough to give me a bag of chicken food for 'my' new chicken. Oh, great...here we go again. I am once again the proud owner of a single chicken.
I only wish Henrietta hadn't been so hard on equipment. All that's left of the original plastic zippy greenhouse is...See for yourself. Look at the "before" and "after" photos of that greenhouse:
This year I have a new smaller plastic zippy greenhouse.
There is no way I want to see a chicken demolish another greenhouse. She or he...here we go again! will not be allowed to live in there. But I've got to put this chicken somewhere. Oh, I remember. At the Savannah plant swap in October, someone was kind enough to give me their old chicken coop. I used it to protect a little cottontail rabbit that was orphaned. The rabbit was eventually released...far from my garden.
Just for the day, I put the chicken into the old second-hand chicken coop. Guess it's time to dust off those plans and get to work building that perfect chicken coop that I never managed to build for Henrietta. Yes, I know how to spell procrastinate and am pretty good at it. Just think of it, my dog Jack will soon get some eggs.
[Yes, I can hear all the experience chicken keepers laughing and spitting out their tea. This chicken is not gonna produce any eggs, but remember, I was totally ignorant, inexperienced and had not yet discovered BackYardChickens.]
The 'new' chicken named 'Henrietta the 2nd' turned out to be a boy, a rooster, a loud and therefore illegal animal in my area. I found him a new home where I hope he will be very happy or very delicious, whichever comes first.
So thanks to my experience, you now all know how NOT to obtain and keep a chicken.
[The photos in this article are my own, taken in and around Savannah, Georgia in my yard, a garden show, and on a chicken coop tour.]