Now, I spent many summers on my grandparents’ farm, so I know about chickens. I know what it takes to care for them. I know how they smell. I know they produce eggs. I know roosters can be mean, and I know they make a great dinner when fried properly.
I also know from time to time, you lose one. A number of things can cause the “loss” of a chicken: old age, a poor parking job, a coyote, an owl or even the appropriately named chicken hawk.
For me, this is only a part of living in the country, and creates stories to tell for years to come. Unfortunately for children who happen to name the chickens, this can be a bit traumatic. I suggested we name them “Breakfast,” “Lunch” and “Dinner,” but they seemed particularly offended by those monikers.
Now in fairness, our chickens have done very well. We started with 10. One of our chickens, “guaranteed to be a hen,” turned out to have a gender identity crisis and went and turned rooster on us. He had the traditional qualities of a rooster: mean, ornery, aggressive, territorial and mean ... oh, did I already say that? We found him a new home. No, don’t start thinking like that. His “new home” wasn’t our dining room table. I was outvoted on that matter. Another local farmer agreed to take him in at his farm.
We were down to nine and doing well. They were producing more eggs than we could eat and the remaining rooster was apparently a pacifist, so he gets to stick around despite his early morning wake-up calls. But recently, a new threat emerged.
One day, while I was at work, my wife and son witnessed an attack from the sky on one of our chickens. The unsuspecting hen was able to break free from the “claws of death descending from above” and make a run for the woods before she became lunch.
My wife called and told me about the assault and I was disappointed that I missed it. Now I am not a “sick” human being. I am cheering for the chicken, but to watch a bird of prey in mid-assault is something I have only seen a couple times in my life and have always been amazed by the power of these birds.
Upon arriving home, my son immediately brought it up.
“Daddy, did you hear we had a visit from a chicken hawk today?”
Excited, I responded, “Yeah, isn’t that awesome?”
He stopped, turned with a shocked look in his eyes and vented, “Awesome? Awesome! Um, I don’t know! A chicken hawk attacked our chickens and tried to eat them! Does that sound ‘awesome’ to you?”
“Uh, well, when you put it that way, I guess not,” I sheepishly apologized. I went on trying to add a spirit of hope, “But he didn’t get her, right?”
“No, no he didn’t ... no thanks to you!” he said as he disappointedly walked away.
Put in my place by a 7-year-old.
Only a few days later, when I did the evening “head count,” we found we were down one hen. The hen named Candice was missing. We are all sad. The children and my wife are mourning the loss of their pet. I am mourning the loss of “dinner.”
(Editor’s Note: Matt has a beautiful family: his wife, son, two daughters, Tucker the family dog and now only eight chickens. Matt’s column appears in every other Wednesday edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)