November 3, 2010 // Uncategorized

Backyard chicken lessons, part two

It arrived with much anticipation. For weeks Heather, my 8-year-old, and I would open the boxes of the chicken coop to see if our treasured three hens had begun laying eggs. Day after day we checked the boxes and nothing. I tried chicken psychology and would ask, “When are you hens going to make me breakfast?”

Finally, Heather found the first egg — a nice light brown egg. Heather screamed with excitement as I was working in the garden at the time, “Daddy, we got an egg!” I’m sure the neighbors heard the excitement too.

She held the egg, showed the treasure to the neighbor kids, and when mom arrived home from school, Heather greeted her at the car door holding the egg.

The egg went to school the next morning, in an egg carton of course, and was shown to the teachers and fellow classmates of the first- and second-grade room at St. Aloysius. Then the egg came to work with me. I admit that I was a pretty proud papa too.

After being passed around to so many hands, we decided that this egg should be preserved as a souvenir. It waits to be drained, decorated and situated in a place of honor on the fireplace.

In late summer, we had a bit of a chicken catastrophe. Three of the hens and one rooster had escaped the pen and something — a dog, a coyote — had killed them. One was hauled off, the other three were found dead in the yard. Heather was devastated. But she said her goodbyes and helped me bury them in the garden.

I also learned a lesson. Keep the chickens’ wings clipped so they don’t fly out. In the meantime, my father-in-law, who is a great carpenter, made a covered chicken run that looks like it came straight from the zoo. The chickens free range when I get home from work and can keep an eye on them.

A trip to my favorite farm store in Huntington had a supply of fall chicks — breeds that I wanted. So we have six pullets now living in my shed, who will hopefully be big enough to defend themselves against the other hens in a few months.

Isn’t that how life is? We raise our children to be strong Catholics with the hope that they will be able to defend themselves against the secularism of the world. The world will peck at them — just like the older hens do to the younger pullets — and maybe even harm them. But as parents we must do our best to prepare our children to meet the dangers of the world. Sometimes we need to protect them from the dangers of the world. Sometimes we need to clip their wings.

Since that first egg, we have gained quite a few eggs, over a dozen in the past week. We all enjoyed scrambled eggs on Heather’s birthday last week. Homegrown chicken eggs are pretty dynamite.

Of course, when you feed them table scraps, garden leftovers, sunflower seeds, bugs from the yard and the farm store feed, they reap some pretty tasty results. In the same way, we need to “feed” our children the Gospel, not only on Sundays, but in the way we live each and every day, which includes the table scraps, garden leftovers, seeds and bugs of real life. Our example in daily life paves the way for how our children will see us living the faith.

Our chickens are quickly becoming pets. It’s not uncommon for me to see Heather holding one of the Rhode Island Reds or the Barred Rock. But then again, it’s not uncommon for me to be holding one of the hens too.

A buddy of mine says chickens have a brain the size of a pea. But Heather and I enjoy them in our backyard. We love to see them chase the cats, and the cats chase the chickens. We can embrace their little quirks and feistiness. There’s something gentle and relaxing about watching them in their simplicity and that’s a gift we all can enjoy.

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