BYC Member Interview - azygous

Discussion in 'Family Life - Stories, Pictures & Updates' started by sumi, Jun 15, 2016.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    Carol, known to BYC members as azygous, has been a member of our community since November 2009. Another of our wonderful all-rounders, she will often be found in the Raising Baby Chicks section, helping and advising new chick parents.

    1. Tell us a bit more about yourself.

    Don't get me started, or we'll be here all day. Oh, okay.

    My name is Carol. "Azygous" is a descriptive term meaning "not one of a pair", chosen years ago because it fits me. I'm a content loner. I'm 74, but you wouldn't know it by the way I act. I was born the first of four kids, and I suppose that's why people come up to me in the grocery store and ask me where something is and why I automatically get chosen as foreman when I serve on a jury. I guess I give off a vibe that I somehow know what I'm doing. Even when I have no clue.


    I have a BA college degree in environmental studies and art. I love being outdoors in nature and spend practically every waking minute outside, even in winter.

    That served me pretty well in my career as a park ranger working for the California State Park System. I had lots of fun and sometimes scary adventures, including evicting rattle snakes from caves and camp sites, a gory helicopter crash with plenty of bleeding, broken people and even a few dead ones, being on duty during a one-hundred year flood with dead people washing down creeks, a yacht wreck on the beach, loaded guns pointed at me, and lots and lots of lost people. "Ranger, please help me, I'm lost!" "No, you're not, you're right here!"

    I lived in some of the parks where I worked, and some were located many, many miles from civilization. Sometimes I'd go days without seeing another human being. I needed to be resourceful, self sufficient, and be ready to handle anything that came up. It sort of spoiled me for ever again living in a town setting with neighbors on each side of me. Actually, even before I became a ranger, I couldn't stand having neighbors where I had to look at them, hear them, and think about them.

    So when I retired at age 55 (California peace officers get to retire early, the theory being they'll likely get themselves shot unless you let them retire before age 65), I chose the cheapest place I could find as far from people as I could get. I ended up far from California where I was a fourth generation native, and have spent the last 22 years on my own 36 acres of land in southern Colorado.

    I've tamed around ten of my acres, creating my own "park" where before, it was so clogged with scrub brush and over grown forest I couldn't even walk through it. I fell the trees, cut them up and split the logs for firewood that heats my home, in the process, creating open space inviting to wild life and hostile to wild fire. And yes, I do all the work myself.


    My chickens enjoy free-ranging on the areas around the house and run, and there are still lots of tall trees for cover. There are a lot of predators, though, and their coops and run are surrounded in hot wire to keep them safe when I'm not around to watch out for them.

    I also do gardening on a pretty large scale, storing produce under my house every winter to feed me and my chickens until the next harvest. My chickens get fresh squash and carrots all year round, and fresh greens all summer.


    It's worked out great since I know how to live without going to town except for twice a month, and I have a talent for making do and re-purposing junk to fashion something I need instead of buying it.

    I also love innovation, and I question everything. Why do we do something in a particular way? Is there a better way to do it? I am constantly observing everything to learn the secrets behind stuff. It's how I have learned so much about chicken behavior - such fascinating critters, and so affectionate and smart!

    2. Why and when did you start keeping chickens?

    In 2008, I saw the wisdom of getting even more self reliant than I had been, since the economy was becoming very precarious. I was already growing a lot of my own food, but I thought I would be even better-off if I had a protein source. Not for meat since I've been mostly vegetarian for the past four decades, but I liked the idea of having a reliable source of fresh eggs.

    At this time, a close friend was killed in a freak highway accident and her husband was liquidating all her chickens and goats. I asked him if I could buy a couple of her hens, but he said he would be happy to give me two. So I started out with two hens who were already over the hill.

    I named my first hens Connie, a Buff Orpington and Michelle, an Easter Egger. Michelle was eaten by a bobcat two years later that broke into the run and scattered my flock to the four winds, but the rest miraculously survived the attack. Connie was the first I had to euthanize when she became completely crippled.

    My first coop was four by four feet. I quickly caught chicken math and wanted some chicks, which I found on Craig's List. I didn't know anything about flock integration, and luckily for me, the two older hens were very accepting of the three four-week old Light Brahma chicks they found roosting in their favorite spot in the coop when they went in to roost that night.

    After that, I've been regularly adding chicks to my flock every couple of years until now I have twenty four, including four new chicks. And that also meant adding onto my coop and run over the years, which has now become a veritable edifice of a chicken chalet. At first glance it resembles a guest house. I've had friends, only half joking, say they wouldn't mind sleeping over in it.

    3. Which aspect(s) of chicken keeping do you enjoy the most?

    Oh, the poop, of course! Hey, just pulling your leg! It does come with the territory, though, and I create a lot of extra work for myself keeping it scooped up from the coops and runs since I made the decision early on that chickens and their living quarters didn't necessarily need to reek.

    The thing about chickens that gets me out of bed each morning to feed and clean up after them is the fact that they are so dog-gone friendly and affectionate and perennially entertaining. That surprised me when I got my first chickens.


    When I was born, my parents raised chickens for meat and eggs during WW II when food was rationed, and my uncle was a commercial poultry raiser. He and my five cousins, as well as my parents, never once in all the decades of raising thousands and thousands of chickens and turkeys, had any as special pets. They were seen as dollars and groceries.

    I do sell my eggs ($4 dozen), but I look at my chickens as being team players, helping to keep me and them fed.

    4. Which members of your flock, past and present, stand out for you and why?

    There were my two problem boys, Penrod and Darrell. These two were accidental roos, and even though they were brooded together, when they got their hormones, they were on a quest to maim and/or kill each other.

    As if that weren't enough of a challenge, Penrod, the Buff Brahma on the left, was a vicious biter, removing plugs of flesh from my exposed body parts, and Darrell, the Black Cochin, was afraid of anything that moved and had regular melt-downs if I even so much as looked at him.


    An occasional poster on BYC, Olychickenguy, befriended me and counseled me through the rehabilitation of both cockerels so that by the time each was a year old, they were lovely gentlemen roos.

    That was when I became extremely interested in chicken psychology and learning why chickens behave as they do. I found myself spending more and more time with my chickens, just watching them interact with each other and with me, and I've learned a lot.

    Did you know that chickens have a rather complex language that we can understand if we take time to learn it? And that they have syntax? They actually speak in sentences like we humans, only their "words" are notes, and the meaning of an uttered phrase changes according to how many notes there are, and where the accent is on the series of notes.

    The first time I ever noticed this was when I was holding a two-day old chick and my cat came into the room. The chick rattled off the exact same five-note phrase the older chickens uttered when they saw my cat coming.

    Sometime later, I was in the run one day when the chickens told me a bear was approaching. It was a similar five-note phrase, but the accent was on a different note than the phrase for a friendly animal. It gave me time to prepare for the inevitable encounter with the bear who saw the sign that said "Carol's Meat Market".

    Getting back to the two problem boys, Darrell was killed one day by visiting dogs, and Penrod had to be euthanized when he became very ill after breaking his leg. Penrod left me a cockerel, Izzy, the one and only egg to ever successfully hatch in my flock. He died at age eleven months of an enlarged liver and heart from the tumors caused by lymphotic leucosis, a legacy from his mother hen. Here's father and son just before Penrod died. They were both magnificent Brahmas.


    But the two most memorable chickens were both EEs, Michelle, my first chicken and Flo, who had to be euthanized a year ago when she became completely crippled. Both of these hens were exceptionally intelligent and I had a solid bond with both. They each had an ability to communicate their needs to me. This is Michelle. She would fly up onto my shoulder when the the SLW roo Stan was stalking her.


    And Flo, almost a dead ringer for Michelle.


    Flo had a terrible feather picking obsession, thus the pinless peepers. She was very, very smart and knew her name. She preferred me over the other chickens and often spent time in my house.

    My oldest living chicken Lady Di tells me when she wants in or out of the run and refuses to use the pop hole like the rest. She insists on using the people door, so she commands me to open it for her and I oblige. She's a Light Brahma and is exactly eight years old, one of my very first chicks.

    Lady Di is the one on the left, lounging with her BFFs Lilith and Irene, seven year old Wyandottes, the old biddies club. In the background are the newest four, two-week old EEs Thelma, Louise, Lucy, and Ethyl, learning to lounge around like their elders do. Does it appear my chickens have it easy? Ha! They certainly have me doing all the work except for the egg part. Speaking of eggs, Lilith and Irene are still laying pretty regularly.


    By the way, those are feed sacks filled with straw that are a huge hit with all the chickens. Obviously!

    5. What was the funniest (chicken related) thing(s) that happened to you in your years as chicken owner?

    Every day I laugh myself silly over something the chickens do. Who needs TV when you have chickens to entertain you? It's one reason I pulled the plug on my satellite TV years ago.

    But probably the funniest thing ever to happen was after a particularly heavy snowfall, the Black Cochin Darrell came charging out of the run, encountered snow, and not wanting to walk on it, tried to fly over it and ended up getting stuck head first in a snow drift, helplessly wiggling his big, flappy, feathered feet, which were the only thing visible of him.

    But there have been very sad moments, too, because chickens have such short lives, and I get very emotionally attached to all my chickens. Last year a chick was killed accidentally due to my careless mistake and it took me ten months to get over it.

    6. Beside chickens, what other pets do you keep?

    I had cat, Thor, for twenty-one years.


    That's the same cat for two decades. He finally ran out of lives a couple years ago. He was pretty much scared of the chickens, including the chicks. I didn't replace him when he died, but who needs more pets when the place is teeming with bears and lions and deer and elk and squirrels and skunks and foxes and snakes.........

    7. Anything you'd like to add?

    I love BYC! It's my island of sanity and happy people amidst a world degenerating into chaos. Cheers for our community of sane chicken people!

    See here for more about the interview feature and a complete list of member interviews:
    2 people like this.
  2. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockless Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    Great interview! Its nice to put a face to a name / avatar - many thanks for sharing.

  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Great story, well told, of and by a fascinating admiration is now increased.
    Thanks for all you contribute, including this interview.
  4. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Carol, I love your story! I think it's one of my all-time favorite interviews, truly worth several re-reads. Amazing. I love that you are a very "seasoned" woman on your own with your land and your animals. I sometimes worry what I'd do if I was left alone on our mountain property, could I cope, could I stay here and manage. Your story is an inspiration to me. Love the Brahma rooster and your cat! I have a brooder full of Brahma babies and hope to keep one Brahma male myself. Love the cat, sorry for your loss-that is a long time to have any animal. Sorry for all the losses. Sadly, the longer we keep chickens, the more we lose, but it's worth it to have had their companionship. Thank you for the wonderful read this morning.

    I have to say, this statement sort of describes me. I want to go further into the mountains. Some days, I look up to the higher peaks around me and think, "I need to be up there".

    By the way, we used to live in Colorado when my hubby was in tech school with the Air Force, in Aurora. My older son was born there.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2016
  5. limited25

    limited25 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 10, 2016
    Wonderful interview and what an inspirational woman you are! It is amazing all the things you have accomplished by yourself and really appreciate you sharing your story with us.
  6. Ol Grey Mare

    Ol Grey Mare One egg shy of a full carton. ..... Premium Member

    Mar 9, 2014
    My Coop
    Oh, Carol, thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful interview with us -- you are one whom I have come to admire and respect here at BYC and it is so nice to have a deeper peek into your world. I have to admit, there were a few surprises in there for me....and they only deepened my respect for you. The photos are wonderful!
  7. WVduckchick

    WVduckchick For The Birds! Premium Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    West Virginia
    My Coop
    Echo everyone's comments! Love the stories and pics, well-written, inspirational interview!

    I've noticed "conversations" between my birds, and I can pick out certain meanings, but now I will be paying even closer attention to the details!

    Thank you so much for sharing!
  8. ChicKat

    ChicKat Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    Great interview, Carol, what an amazing story! Thanks for sharing the insights.

    ETA in Gail Damerow's book Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens - she has a chapter about the chicken language.... have you ever considered writing an article on your views for BYC community?
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2016
  9. azygous

    azygous Flock Master

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    Thank you for all the kind responses to my interview. It has been fun sharing some of my more personal aspects with this community, and I'm honored that my contributions are so well received.
    2 people like this.
  10. Leahs Mom

    Leahs Mom True BYC Addict

    Feb 9, 2012
    Northern Indiana
    Very enjoyable read and well-written too! Thanks so much :)

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