Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Piles of Feathers

Nothing teaches children responsibility and the rewards of hardwork like raising livestock. Unfortunately that undertaking can come with some harsh lessons in reality you may not be ready to teach your small children.

Not so very long ago we acquired five white hens. Everyone in the Harris household was quite taken with the birds, and it became a daily sprint when we got home to check the chicken coop for eggs. A nice routine developed. We checked for eggs and fed the chickens morning and evening and they were turned loose while we were at home to free range. At twilight the hens would return to their coop to roost for the night in their cozy boxes, we had only to shut the door. There was no fear of attack from a fox or weasel because the coop was built firm and tight. All was well. Or so we thought.

In the beginning we didn't have a rooster, so our dog Buster looked after our little flock. He doesn't know he's a dog you see. Whenever the chickens were free ranging Buster would stay nearby and keep an eye on things and the birds would follow him around, even into his dog house. Leave it to our family to come across a rooster in need of psychiatric counseling. Apparently this bird lived in a poultry war zone before he came to us and is now suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I'll come back to that.

One spring like Saturday I was off to Mount Vernon with the kids on a field trip and my husband Jay was called in to work. While we were away we allowed the chickens to roam free under Buster's watchful eye and the spastic guidance of Jethro the rooster. Stopping home at lunch Jay found all to be well. Borrowing a tool from our garage at three o'clock, my father-in-law found all to be well. When we all arrived home at 5:30, things were not well. There was not a chicken to be found, only piles of feathers. Four neat piles to be exact dotted across the yard. No blood. No bodies. No trail. The only clue was some matted grass in the hay field next door. Perhaps a fox or coyote had lain in wait and picked off the birds one by one? A single egg was left in the coop, our eight-year-old said it was "for hope".

Our distraught family plodded inside and I began the gloomy explanation of what happened to our chickens when two of the hens staggered back into the yard! They were haggard and half naked, but alive. We placed them in the coop with fresh food and water and left the door open in hopes the others might return. Jethro the psycho rooster was discovered in the rafters of the shed, his PTSD elevated to a whole new level.

An hour later we looked out the window to see the dog's nose buried in the grass, and then suddenly he threw a mouthful of feathers into the air! Buster was holding down a chicken with his paw and ripping its feathers out with his mouth. The chicken was playing dead. The culprit had been found. As much as we hated to believe it our gentle dog was "playing" with the chickens. Try explaining that to your kids!

Several attempts were made to break Buster of his chicken habit, but to no avail. Now when the chickens roam the dog is tied. Sadly we still only have two hens and a rooster, though we hope to add a few more. The ladies have finally recovered enough to start laying eggs again. Jethro the rooster is as disturbed as ever. If you ever drive by around twilight and see the entire Harris family in the yard running in zig zagged circles and waving our arms over our heads, don't worry we're not doing some demented rain dance. We're just penning up a rooster for the night and teaching our kids a few life lessons.

Now for a book update! Reviews from the early readers have been fantastic. I'm really shocked (and pleased) at how positive the feedback has been. I'm taking some vacation time to work on editing based on the information I've received and I hope to have the manuscript off for grammar editing next week. At the same time I will be searching for an agent to represent me with publishers. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned for details!

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