Anet learns chicken sounds…in vain

#438 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 2003, Hills Newspapers

“Scarce as hens’ teeth.” I guess that’s said because chickens have no teeth, only beaks, so they wouldn’t just be scarce, they’d be nonexistent.

Even without the means to bite, chickens can be scary. There are bold chickens, I found as a child while visiting a ranch, who fly at people, especially children, especially children approaching the chicken’s nest where her eggs are.

I was instructed to reach into each nest and pull out the eggs, to look like I knew what I was doing, to be brisk and businesslike about it. This attitude was supposed to work but it didn’t always. Then it was my turn to flutter and start away, sure that the chicken would bite me.

Still, there is something terribly cozy about chickens. I find them so appealing that I’d really enjoy having chickens of my own. Anet and I go to the country fair every summer and always go to visit the chickens. As we drive to the fairgrounds, Anet practices her chicken sounds. She’s quite good at it.

This started a few years ago when we’d read that there would be a chicken calling contest at the fair. Anet had visions of winning the contest and so was practicing her calls in the car. But when we got there, it turned out to be a different sort of event than we had imagined.

You had to have your own chicken and you had to be a kid to participate. It was a race. Several kids lined up at one end of some lanes, their chickens at the other end, then called them to come. “Come on, Elsa,” a kid would shout. “Hurry!” No chicken language was used, only people talk. It was disappointing.

We had a listing not long ago with a very large yard and two chicken coops. There were no chickens there, hadn’t been for many years, but the chicken wire was intact on the coops and Charlie, our seller, even had the original pottery water and feed containers – the kind that sit on saucers. I took one look at the set-up and was dying to have chickens there again.

I called my friend Gretchen to ask questions. Gretchen has her own chicken, one named Franny. (She used to have three chickens, all girls, but two got sick and died.) Franny wanders about freely in Gretchen’s garden during the day and Gretchen locks her up at night in a cage. They have a most pleasant relationship.

Gretchen said we’d need chicken scratch, some greens and water. We’d need nests, and if the nests were up off the ground (preferred), we should provide one of those chicken ladders with wood strips for them to climb up on.

It probably wouldn’t work for them to be allowed to run loose in the yard, said Gretchen. Until chickens know a place as home, they will fly away, probably to the neighbors, and how would we get them back?

There went my dream of chickens walking around and scratching in the grass under the old apple tree at Charlie’s. It took a couple of days for me to get over this disappointment and to call Gretchen again to ask where I might get some chickens.

Temporarily borrowing chickens seemed like the way to go. We could buy baby chicks but how would we raise them? No one was living at the house, baby chickens require concerted care, and there was the time factor, too. How long does it take for chickens to grow up?

Plus, what would we do with them after the house was sold unless, of course, the buyer wanted to keep them?

I very briefly considered killing and eating them but, good heavens, what a nightmare. When I was small, it suddenly came back to me in a rush of memories, my grandparents did raise chickens for food. I saw my grandpa killing them (awful) and helped pluck them (tedious), watched as the pin feathers were singed over a gas flame (smelly). No, eating them was not what I wanted.

And so, through the Internet, I wrote to a Castro Valley 4-H group to inquire about the possibility of borrowing chickens. Someone at the club kindly wrote back to me explaining that due to an outbreak of something called Newcastle disease, no poultry could be transported at this time anywhere in the state. In fact, no poultry would be appearing at any county fairs this year.

Now this was bad news. Not only would I not get to see my imagined barnyard scene at Charlie’s, but Anet and I could not see chickens at the fair. I was already missing them, my favorites being the plump red ones, some as broad and round as an oversized teakettle.

We went to the fair anyway, and maybe just to make me happy, Anet made her soothing little chicken sounds all the way there.

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