Chicken Art

If you have chickens, then you probably have chicken knickknacks. Even if you don’t buy salt and pepper shakers in the shapes of hens, you probably have a set that your friends have given you. Or the dishtowel with the chicken laying a pink egg or perhaps the potholder stamped with yellow chicks. I confess to a love of chicken tchotzkas, though I limit my selections to hens. No egotistical rooster items in this house. I have candlesticks in the shape of chickens. Chicken pillows. Even my pot rack has hens welded on it. I’m very selective (really!) I don’t go for kitschy ersatz nostalgic farm scenes. I like my chickens in bold graphics.

There are chicken knickknacks and then there’s chicken art. Fine art is not necessarily “serious” art. Honestly, I’ve never seen a serious-looking chicken. I recently had an email from an artist in Somerville, MA. Know of any other artists with hens as muses? Email me.

Weird Nature

My second-grader came bursting into the house this afternoon yelling, “You’ve got to see this!” I’ve heard that phrase enough to know not to proceed innocently with visions of newly blooming flowers. When I saw him crouched over a mass on the front walkway, I steeled myself. I love nature. And you probably do, too, but if you’re squeamish, skip the rest of this blog.

A few steps from him I said with some relief, “Oh, it’s just a slug.”

“No, Mom!” he shouted.

I got closer. It sure looked like a slug. It was shaped like a slug and it was moving just like a slug. Then again, it sort of shimmered. This was one weird slug.

“It’s not a slug!” he said, still crouching. “And look! There’s more!” Sure enough, there were several of these slugs moving across the path and through the grass. Slugs come out in the sort of rainy, still, hot day that we were having. But I’d never seen this many. I got closer. I squatted next to my son. And then I realized he was right. What looked like a slug were hundreds of insects moving in concert like a slug. They were translucent. You could see their intestinal tracts. Sort of like caterpillars made from jellyfish bodies in slug camouflage. Gross is too mild a word. My first reaction? “Let’s feed them to the chickens!”

My husband, who at this point was busy videotaping and photographing this natural wonder, said, “I don’t think they’ll eat them.” (Ask me some other time about how our family photo albums are interspersed with pictures of frogs, snakes and insects.)

“Sure the chickens will eat these things. They don’t eat tent caterpillars – too hairy — but they’ll love these. All smooth and wriggly.” I scooped up one of the “slugs” with a garden trowel and called, “I’ve got bugs for you girls.” They came running. But when I tossed the mass of insects into their yard, they were suspicious. Twinkydink eyed the wriggling bugs. Ginger stretched her neck down and peered at them. Tweedledum, who has a hard time seeing anything through all of her fluffy feathers, came trotting over. She saw movement. She pecked. She swallowed. The hens watched her. Then they all dug in. I tossed them several more trowels of “slugs.” They chuck-chucked and clucked in the singsong way of a contented flock.

Meanwhile, my husband called the guy who installed most of our landscape. Were these bizarre insects going to destroy the garden? We got out our favorite guide to bugs -“Garden Insects of North America” (invaluable!). There they were, on page 520. March Flies. March flies, it turns out, are common and not destructive. They eat decaying matter and sometimes feed on turf grass roots. We’ve never used pesticides on our property and I was relieved that I didn’t have to start. Then again, I wasn’t at all sorry to feed some of them to the hens.

Hot Chickens

It’s in the high eighties today and humid so the girls are in the shade. The bossy ones have settled into the prime real estate of the loose cool dirt near the compost pile. But there’s not enough room there for everyone, so a few others are off to the side of the chicken house where it is shady and breezy. Still, chickens are restless and easily distractible creatures, so if you watch long enough you’ll see a hen or two wander by. And if you see them all suddenly come charging into view, it’s likely that I’ve just opened the back porch door. They’re optimistic. I might be coming out to feed them.

Even with the window open, the chicken house is a few degrees hotter inside than out. Three hens have been broody lately – Tweedledum, Snowball and Blackie. But on a sweltering day like today it’s only Snowball who has the willpower to stay indoors.

Snowball rasps a guttural warning when I go into the henhouse to check for eggs. Snowball sounds serious, but I can reach under her and collect the eggs without getting pecked at.

Tweedledum, the sweet and dim hen that she is, doesn’t even make a sound. She lets me lift her up and take away the eggs. Then she settles back down as if those three big eggs are still there.

Blackie has been broody for the last few days. She’s a big hen, with big feet and when I reach under her, sometimes I grab a toe by mistake. She fluffs her feathers in annoyance but neither utters a sound nor tries to stop me. Honestly, the eggs must be quite uncomfortable to sit on, so maybe the hens are relieved that they’re gone.