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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY:   Helga the hen to the rescue

© Another Day in the Country

We have a new chicken for the Unusual Chicken Farmer enterprise because the farmer, my 11-year-old grandson, has had such tough luck with his chickens in rural California and ended up this summer with only one hen.

It all started, as I’ve already told you, last summer just about this time when a book appeared on the summer reading list that told the story of a young chicken farmer and her highly unusual chickens.

After reading this book, my grandson and I schemed to set him up in the chicken business. I promptly ordered a mail-order chicken coup — which my daughter put together with our help. We bought six pullets of different ages (unfortunately), who later turned out to really be four hens and two roosters. The roosters fought like matadors and would have killed each other had we not intervened and sent one of the roosters — who appeared to be most aggressive — to a real farm chicken, which unfortunately meant he might be eaten for Sunday dinner.

My grandson, Dagfinnr, now had four hens and one still-growing rooster.

In northern California, there are way more predators than we counted on, and to make a long story short, we lost three hens over the next months to coyotes, foxes, bobcats, raccoons — who knows?

They were mostly in their chicken quarters. We had break-ins.

By the time I arrived on the scene in June as the summertime nanny, there was one hen left, Peckerface (who lays blue eggs), and her rooster companion, T Rex (formerly known as Rhett).

My daughter was sick to death of T Rex because he’d taken to attacking anyone but my grandson and crowing incessantly — thus making him persona non grata!

She called a farmer friend — again — and T Rex also was shipped off to become a farm chicken.

This left poor Peckerface alone.

Who ever heard of raising or keeping one chicken? Chickens are communal animals. They belong in a flock.

As long as someone was outside, she was quite content to follow along wherever we were, but these family members of mine are not outside kind of people.

My daughter is mostly working. My son-in-law works and then comes home to lose himself in electronics. My grandson could have his nose in a computer tablet all day long if I didn’t intervene.

We made Peckerface a chicken swing out of a piece of an old hoe handle and some cord. We had read in one of the chicken books that a swing would amuse chickens and keep them happy, but Peckerface didn’t know what to do with a swing. It was in her way in the chicken run, so that didn’t work.

My grandson pulled up information on the Internet about how to keep pets occupied while owners were away. This was mostly for dogs and cats. There were toys that you could stick pieces of food inside and the dog would amuse himself for hours chewing on this thing instead of chewing, supposedly, on your couch.

We wondered whether we could fashion something like this for Peckerface. I really should say that I wondered.

Dagfinnr thought he had done his part by exposing me to what information was on the Internet.

Then, one day, our farmer friend appeared with a hen.

“Here’s a companion for Peckerface,” he said. “This hen is young, so they should get along.”

Like magic we now had two chickens, and after as little kerfuffle of “who are you?” and “don’t boss me,” they seem to be getting along fine.

Dagfinnr christened the new hen Helga. She’s very dark red, and at first, I thought she might be a Rhode Island red, but she’s a rather slim girl.

I finally figured out that she is a red star, which means she is a good laying hen. She proved this fact on the day she arrived by laying a dark chocolate brown egg in the nest box in spite of the fact that she been traumatized by being snatched from the roost, spent the night in a cat cage, and been trounced around in the back of a beat-up truck for 60 miles.

So now, every day or so, my grandson gets a blue egg and a brown egg. He often has one of them for breakfast, as he’s learned to boil his own eggs — thanks to grandma.

The hens are happy, dusting themselves in the corner of the chicken run, fluffing their feathers, and even preening each other on occasion. All is well, for now, on another day in the country.

Last modified Aug. 8, 2018

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