Chickens and my Dad

More than five years after my father passed on, his memory accompanies everything I do. I don’t have to call him on the phone or see him in person to hear his responses. I know it immediately what he’d say and do. I picture him leaning back to smile with approval or throw up his hands in frustration. I have imaginary debates with him until he raises his eyebrows and gestures with one hand to show that he sees my point, even if he doesn’t completely agree.

Last week, as I looked through hatchery catalogues, I kept picturing how delighted my father would be. All his life, my dad loved chickens, and he kept them whenever the situation permitted. Instead of looking at them as a farmer might, he tended them the way some people tend their rose gardens.

Like a flower gardener, he paged through catalogues in the spring, trying to decide which lovely varieties he might buy. He was captivated by the striking black and white patterns of the Silver Laced Wyandotte and the blue eggs of the Araucanas. He admired proud roosters and chose shimmering Welsummers, which look like the multicolored drawings on the cornflake box. A favorite hatchery catalogue offered one free “rare, exotic chick” with each purchase of 25 birds, and he awaited this mysterious arrival with child-like eagerness.

As an adult, I’ve only raised meat birds, and I’ve stayed with the standard meat breed, so I didn’t have reason to pore over hatchery catalogues until recently, when we considered adding layers. Thumbing through those catalogues, I could almost see my Dad smiling at the shimmering feathers and proud postures of those roosters. My eyes were drawn to the splashy-colored and intricately patterned birds that he would have admired.

I told myself I was being far more practical than my father. I considered which birds would be the best at foraging for their own food in our free-range system, which would reduce feed costs and make their eggs more nutritious. I balanced that quality against the number of eggs each breed generally lays per week, and I tried to assemble a practical flock that would yield a beautiful and prolific bunch of eggs.

Somehow “beautiful” became an important part of my decision, though. I envisioned full egg cartons with the eye of an artist, imagining how many white eggs would be needed to nicely contrast the greens and browns that filled the rest of the carton. I hoped that some of my future Welsummer hens would lay in shades of dark chocolate, and I looked forward to seeing how their terra-cotta speckled shells would contrast the smooth, even colors of the other brown eggs. My father would have approved.

Next week, when the peepers arrive at the post office, I will be on the lookout for the “rare, exotic chick,” promised by the hatchery. When I find it among the others, I will remember my father’s delight and share in it again, just as fully as I would if he were standing beside me.

2 comments

  1. I love it when the post office gets the peepers! I remember helping unload chicks of all sorts at a seed & hatchery where my parents were friends with the owner. I can still smell the grain-scented dust and feel the little feet on my hands. Thank you for the reminder!

    I’m glad that beauty is one of your considerations. It’s so much better when beauty is part of everyday life, instead of something we relegate to a museum.

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