In the winter, chickens get sick. Sometimes, you see it happening. A year ago, during Boston’s Winter of Unfathomable Show, I spotted Dee Dee looking wan and wobbly took her to the animal ER. It wasn’t the smartest financial decision of my life, but at least she turned out to be fine.
In the summer, chickens dig. They can’t squeeze too much knowledge into their small chicken brains, but they know there might be a tasty grub beneath every square inch of dirt in the backyard. Their dinosaur feet turn out to be excellent at digging for grubs, but not so good for grass. This is a problem with letting them roam free. Also: they fertilize the patio. In August, tired of sweeping poop and staring at our denuded lawn, we grounded the chickens in a fenced-in run. Sorry.
In the fall, chickens change. One day last October, we come home to discover feathers scattered all over the run. Had a predator come? Was there a scuffle? No. The hens were molting. Here’s how Dee Dee looked in her balding days. Fortunately, it grew back.
In the second winter, the chickens stop laying. Also, they get sick. One February morning, only two birds descended from the henhouse. The third was in a nesting box, stiff and cold. My husband identified her as Dee Dee. He told me in the morning as I was getting ready for work. She was the underdog, the outcast, the low bird on the totem pole, and I mourned all day for her sad chicken life. And then, the next morning, I opened the henhouse and Dee Dee came down.
The deceased, it turns out, was BeBe. Did she look just like Dee Dee? Not exactly. Her crown was floppier. See?
RIP, BeBe. She was the alpha bird, the food hoarder, the one who pecked at her sisters and monopolized the snacks. But she was also the chicken most likely to jump into your lap. Every creature is complex.
The rest of the winter is cold and sad. And then, one day in February, these appeared in the henhouse:
It happened to be the same week that pitchers and catchers report. Forget about the calendar. These are the signs of spring.