Monday, August 5, 2013

Hyndl the Happy Chicken

I've acquired another chicken.

My parents have had chickens for a number of years, and this past spring got a bunch more chicks to increase their flock. They live in a much more rural area than I do and have not had a dog for a number of years, so the predators came calling. In early July a weasel or something got in among the young birds. When my folks got up in the morning there was only one youngin left, all the rest had been slaughtered. They tried putting her in among the adult chickens, but there really is a pecking order, and the older birds immediately started beating up on the poor traumatized thing. Not knowing what else to do my folks cleaned up the coop where the carnage had happened and let the little chick hide under a bush nearby, while leaving the door open if she wanted to go back to her old home.

When Alysa and I went to visit that evening, my dad was in just as much shock as the little chicken, so I took pity on both of them and volunteered to take it home, set it up outside in our dog crate, and try to integrate it into my much younger flock. Mom even had an antique chicken crate she gave to me for transportation. So we made a bed of straw, put in water and food, and then caught the poor thing. Actually she was quite willing to be caught and carried around, she actually calmed down and stopped stopped panting while we carried her around the yard and placed her in the old crate. Alysa and I put the chicken in her antique home in our bathroom overnight, and the next day I set about making her a new home.

The next morning when I opened the chicken crate she popped her head up, and let me pet her. She hopped up out of the crate, and cooed for a while, then let me pick her up and walk around with her. She seemed so content that I actually took her into the living room, sat her on my knee, and proceeded to check facebook from my laptop on the other knee. She spent most of the next 45 minutes preening. She had a ton of dandruff, probably from all the stress, and sat there cleaning herself and shaking chicken dander all over, but perfectly happy to sit on my knee. This chicken actually likes people.

She is a Cochin, she is golden with feathers all over her feet. So she isn't a heritage breed, but what she lacks in history she more than makes up for in gentleness. In fact, the first week she was living with us I actually took her to work one day.

It was a day I was Mrs. Shapiro, and there is some oral history evidence that the Shapiros did keep chickens. Also, the back yard is fairly enclosed, and there is a covered area under the wheelchair ramp that is the perfect size for chickens that need to escape rain or sun. It was tough for me to both watch over the house and help folks interact with the chicken, but it sure was fun having her there. She ate bugs in the compost pile, flirted with the catbird that lives in the mock orange, made herself a dirt nest under the horseradish, and let me pick her up so that visitors that wanted to touch the chicken could do so. I justified having such a funny looking bird (her feet really are hilarious) by saying that I needed a brooding hen: a hen that would lay on the eggs and be a good mother to my next year's chicks. Cochins are in North America by 1919, and I read on the internet that they are broody, so it worked as justification for the one-day appearance.

I did not have a single person respond badly that day. I did encounter folks that were uninterested, and that is totally cool. I had many more people who wanted to know more, about chickens, about the history of livestock in early 20th Century urban settings, and most who just wanted to actually interact with this live animal.

She did not have a name before I brought her to work. Stephen does not approve of naming things that eventually will get eaten. But I was taking care of her separately from my other chickens, and I knew that museum visitors would ask me if she had a name. I looked up the word "Chicken" in Yiddish, Mrs. Shapiro's first language, and decided that "Hyndl" would be a fine name for a chicken. Since we are calling her chicken, just in a different language, Stephen has approved this name. He has also approved of one of my other chicken names, for the smallest of our other flock I've been calling her Marie Antoinette. He is okay with this name as long as we are all aware that eventually Marie Antoinette will loose her head. I might have to name Marie's siblings Mary Queen of Scotts and Anne Boleyn.

But back to Hyndl. I have not brought her back to the museum, though I would like to. I just have to convince the powers that be to let me interpret chicken that day and not be stuck with a house to watch too. In the meantime, I have sucessfully integrated her into my little flock. She is not exactly welcomed by my three other birds, but they let her at the feeders, and tolerate her presence without too much harassment, which is good enough for a chicken.

1 comment:

  1. Awww, no photos of sweet little Miss Hyndl? Just sayin'!