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AN OPEN BOOK: A coop full of chickens

I'm so excited, I'm just going to blurt it out: The girls have come home to roost!

Yes, our five little pullets (the fancy name for young hens) are comfortably ensconced in their backyard coop.

Henrietta, Gertie, Pearl, Black Bart and Water Head are quite content. Unfortunately, the last two names are not typos. It seems my incorrigible husband and his equally wacky youngest daughter simply didn't understand (or acquiesce to) my desire to christen our flock with old-timey, feminine names. I had a list for them to draw from: Ruby, Irene, Edith, even Beulah would have worked ... Try as I might to convince Brad and Bliss to see the error of their ways, it wasn't going to happen.

The names stuck: Black Bart — named, of course, for her color — and Water Head — explanation evidently not necessary from the 3-year-old perspective. Bliss does, however, say the name with such love that it softens it a bit.

“Water Headie ... Here's my blanket, Water Headie” in that high-pitched, crooning little voice actually sounds pretty sweet.

In the last few months, we've also had the lovely surprise of meeting some really nice “chicken people.” Janet Porn and her husband, John, introduced us to their flock and gave us an abundance of helpful hen-raising hints. Clarence and Denise Anderson, from Lovell, raised our girls from day-old chicks — and picked a great selection of breeds.

Even the young guy at the feed store was exceedingly helpful — and didn't laugh at me when I asked dumb questions.

Speaking of questions, people have continually asked me one thing since we embarked on the Great Chicken Adventure: How are you going to get eggs if you don't have a rooster? A short course in avian biology is in order — simply put, chickens will lay eggs no matter what. Roosters are only needed to fertilize the eggs — and thus produce little fluffy chicks. If you don't want chicks, you don't need a rooster.

Lest I sound like a pompous chicken encyclopedia, I do have a lot of learning to do — I even own a copy of “Raising Chickens for Dummies.” (Didn't know it existed, right?) It's my go-to guide for all questions chicken: What kinds of treats do they like? Why aren't they roosting? When will they lay eggs?

Turns out they'll eat fruit, veggies, bugs, weeds — pretty much anything, even spaghetti. The book says they'll even eat cooked chicken and eggs. Ummmm, I don't think so. There's just something so wrong with that picture.

The roosting question is a little trickier: It seems that, without an adult chicken to teach them to hop up on the roost at night, they're content as youngsters to stay cuddled in the shavings on the coop floor. And they look really cute in their half-grown hen huddle, but Henrietta has been getting anxious at bedtime. She gazes upward inside the coop, clucks softly, exits, and looks for a roosting spot on the exterior. How she can miss the four-foot roosting pole, similar to a closet bar, that spans the coop is a mystery to me, but ... I guess I'll have to give her some help by boosting her — and the others — up on the roost so they understand. Isn't that what any good chicken mama would do?

It looks like the egg-laying will commence in a month or so. You can bet I'll be as proud as the girls when our first egg arrives. I'll keep you posted.

Last week, on the chickens' first day home alone, I asked Brad to please go check on them during his lunch hour. He agreed, but needless to say, I didn't trust that he would. (Remember that he hasn't been too fond of the chicken idea.)

Not one to just cross my fingers, I called him shortly after lunch.

“Did you check the chickies?” I asked.

“Of course I did,” he responded. “They're doing great.”

And then he added, “I am their dad, aren't I?”

I pretended not to notice the sarcasm dripping from his voice. He's coming around.

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