About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

Oh, Mercy! Part One of a Story
About an Amazing Chicken

Author's note: This story was written several years ago about a chicken we owned several years before that. She's still the yardstick by which we measure poultry. Today is Part One of the two-part story.

I love chickens, but am less enchanted with guineas. Mike likes them because they eat the worms that destroy apples. Guineas, or at least the adults, are too aggressive for my liking. Last summer I tried to return a baby, or keet, that had lost track of its flockmates and mother. My reward: a sharp peck on the hand.

This year, as the summer waned, Mike and I noticed fewer and fewer roosters crowing. It wasn’t something you noticed from day to day. But by August, the inside of the chicken coop looked like a ghost town, young ducks turned up missing, and the yard grew eerily silent One morning, our miniature horse, Macy, charged across the pasture, chasing a streak of red fur.

A fox.

Our poultry had always been free range. But sadly, we realized it was kinder to pen them instead of leaving them unprotected. So Mike constructed a chicken run between our chicken coop and Poultry Towers: a high-rise poultry roost made from the old Kerrick School monkey bars, wrapped with chicken wire and topped with a tarp.

The War Against the Foxes
It was during the War against the Foxes that a guinea hen rose to prominence on our farm, along with one amazing chicken hen, resulting in an afternoon of high drama.

We purchased a pair of guineas at the Sturgeon Lake chicken swap in hopes they would breed some nice gentle keets. The rooster eventually had to be dispatched because he had killed a couple of ducklings. But he had served his purpose: the hen had laid a sizeable clutch of eggs, and began sitting shortly after her mate’s demise. The hen, who we simply called The Widow, chose a corner in an empty stall in the barn, just off the main aisleway. There was a little red chicken hen nearby, bigger than a bantam but not a large bird by any means. Perching on her roost, she called to mind a bellhop waiting to be pressed into service.

In July we rented the services of a miniature donkey, Little Joe, to breed with Macy. The aisleway in the barn was their preferred place to rendezvous. At one point Little Joe stepped right in the middle of The Widow’s nest. She escaped, barely missing being squashed. With wings flapping, she chased the donkey, the horse, and all three goats out of the barn, finishing with a loud chatter that was probably guinea language for “AND STAY OUT!”

An Angel of Mercy
It was a miracle that any eggs hatched at all. But hatch they did. First I saw three keets. Then seven. Then – oh, there must have been a dozen and a half. That many little puffballs won’t stay still long enough for you to count them. The widow did her best to herd them. But keeping an eye on so many babies was hard for one hen to do. Remarkably, the little red hen stepped up. She helped herd the keets, directing them with gentle clucks. She spread out her tailfeathers like a fan to hide the babies from nosy onlookers. She gathered them under her feathers. She even helped clean up the eggshells, which are a source of protein for poultry. I started calling her Mercy, as an angel of mercy, or perhaps a New England midwife.

After three days, The Widow led her babies out of the stall and outdoors. With all the barn traffic, it was inevitable that one should be trampled. But after the loss of that one unfortunate keet, the others became quite adept at avoiding the equines and goats. With Mercy bringing up the back, mother and babies disappeared into the tall grass, as guineas are wont to do. We knew the keets would be in good hands.

A few days later, while I was running errands and Mike was out doing chores, he heard a peeping and found a lone keet. He gathered it up and placed it by Mercy, since The Widow wasn’t around. Then he noticed Mercy was rounding up additional keets. Her tailfeathers were missing. And The Widow was nowhere in sight, the last sign of her being an agitated squawk a few minutes before.

The fox had struck again.

To be continued...

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