There was considerable excitement when the fourteen chickens moved into their new outdoor home. “Bür-Ä-Bök!” was everyone’s opinion, and they shared it with me again and again as they explored every corner.
They had their old familiar water bottle and dry food container, but everything else was new and exciting. Their chicken run had plenty of space for them to spread out, stretch their legs, and flap their wings.
Lefty had watched intently throughout the building process. Since he was My Best Little Buddy, he gave everyone a guided tour. He tapped and pecked each part and chattered about it, almost as if he had built it himself.
Even so, it took everyone, including Lefty, longer than expected to discover how to use the chicken ladder leading up to the coop. Their chicken instincts and curiosity would eventually help them learn, but until then, it would be best to stay outside with them. Even in the city, there are wild animals like foxes, opossums, and raccoons that might try to dig underneath the fencing at night.
For the first few evenings, they huddled together in a corner under the coop, staying low to the ground. The larger chicks would be at the edges to protect the smaller ones. Lefty, of course, was always on the edge and the closest to any danger that might come their way. He was their leader and main protector.
As evening came, they would talk to each other softly and sweetly. Perhaps they were recounting their many adventures of the day or wishing each other a pleasant night’s sleep. These were different sounds than what they had made indoors in their brooder box or even when they were playing outdoors. This talk was soothing to them and to me.
As it grew dark, one of them would begin to sing to the others. Then another would join in with a different song. These were not like the repeated songs or calls the songbirds made. These were beautiful lullabies.
In the dark, I could not always tell who was singing, but it did not matter. When combined, their individual voices made a single beautiful voice, a voice of gratitude for another precious day lived.
They had never sung each other to sleep indoors, only outdoors in their new home. If I had not stayed and kept watch over them at night, I would have never known.
As I listened to their songs, my heart began to imagine what they might be singing. One night, I was sure Bessie sang to Gracie, “You have been my friend forever, my friend forever you will be.” And then Gracie sang back to her, “Every day is a gift with a friend like you.”
Through all of those nights, I began to realize there is more to the lives of chickens than the encyclopedia could teach me.
Lefty was the first to discover how the chicken ladder led up to the coop, and he quickly showed everyone else what to do. He even demonstrated how excellently he could jump out of the door and fly down to the ground without having to use the ladder at all. Rudy was particularly impressed by this daring stunt.
They wasted no time in rearranging the straw to their liking. Since no one was laying eggs yet, the nesting boxes were oddly interesting to them, but they only seemed useful for playing Hide And Seek.
Once they were accustomed to sleeping in the coop, the door could be locked securely, and they no longer needed me to watch over them at night. Nevertheless, I often stayed outside with them long enough to enjoy their singing.
As they grew, their new home became more crowded. Before long, it was time for the ones I was raising for my friends to move out to their new homes.
The Emperor and The Empress stayed because they were a definite pair. With The Emperor being a rooster, they would eventually need to leave, but it would be easier for them with only one more move rather than two.
Rudy was supposed to leave, but in the confusion of sorting everyone, she was mixed up with a different Rhode Island Red. She stayed with me since it would be less stressful, and they both seemed happy exactly where they were.
Lefty stayed because by then it was clear he was a rooster even though he was not crowing yet. As with The Emperor and The Empress, it would be my responsibility to find a home for him somewhere out in the country when the time came. I didn’t want that time to ever come.
And fortunately, Gracie and Bessie stayed together and stayed with me, and that was just as I had hoped.
“Bür-Ä-Bök!” they both told me at the same time, and so I guessed it was what they had hoped as well.
With just my six chickens, there was more space for playing, and it felt almost like a new home for them. Lefty had a better chance to show what a good leader he could be, and I had a better chance to appreciate what made each of them special.
One entire side of their coop had a wire fencing door. That made it easier to do my chicken chores, but more importantly, it let in plenty of cool breezes on warm summer nights while still keeping them safe.
They could go up their chicken ladder and to the top roosting spot in their coop. From there, we could look at each other face-to-face, and they could feel like they were as tall as me. This fascinated them.
Their new nighttime roosting perch was a wooden stepladder. At the top and closest to the wire door would always be Lefty, then Bessie, and then Gracie. If it had been Lefty’s decision, he would have only allowed Bessie up at the top beside him. But Bessie insisted there be room for Gracie. Bessie would nudge Lefty over inch by inch to make room for Gracie. He would finally have to hop down before falling off the top step. He soon learned that in some things, at least, he had to let others have their way. Bessie’s way was to be with Gracie.
On the middle step would always be The Emperor and The Empress, side by side, with The Emperor closest to the wire door to protect her.
On the bottom step would be Rudy. She always seemed to have a different spot and a different position along the step. It was as if she could never quite get comfortable. Sometimes she would even perch on the side metal braces. She never complained about being alone as the only Rhode Island Red, but I did think about getting at least one more like her as a companion.
If I could go back to any time with my chickens, it would be then. Every day was “Bür-Ä-Bök!” for all of us. Lefty and The Emperor had not begun crowing, and none of the others were laying eggs. We spent our days simply learning about each other in our garden.
As events would turn out, the extra time was good for all of us. Because of it, my life with Gracie and the others took a happily unexpected turn. Without it, our story would have ended on this page.