This spring, we mail-ordered 20 chicks. For those unfamiliar with this process, they actually come in a box, with holes for them to breathe of course. (In the spring, the West Plains Post Office has so many of these boxes that the entire place chirps!) We ordered these chicks for a few reasons. One is that nothing tastes quite a like a farm-fresh egg. Another is that our farm house rental has a veritable chicken coup penthouse, and it seems a shame to let it go vacant. Most important, however, is that we home school, and taking care of animals provides an excellent opportunity for us to teach responsibility and attentiveness to nature and its many lessons. As it turns out, many of those lessons have been unexpected.
My wife and I are city folk, who are making the transition to the country life, and loving almost every minute of it by the way. I say “almost” because there are some things that city folk, for all their book learnin’ and web surfin’ just can’t learn without making silly and sometimes tragic mistakes. Of these 20 chickens, 13 are now (God rest their souls) in the mistake category.
Last week, we had to make an unplanned trip to Texas. Before leaving, we hastily secured the perimeter of the coup and filled the waterer and feeder to the brim. No need to burden neighbors or friends with the task of checking in on our chickens. They would be just fine.The wide open door that we saw upon our return spoke otherwise.
My stomach sank as I approached the dark space and imagined chicken carcasses all over the floor, some of them named and considered close friends by my three kids. Three chickens were huddled in the corner – victimized by who knows how many nights of sheer terror as their peers were picked off one by one by foxes, raccoons and coyotes. I found 5 more in the rafters – a terrible case of survival of the fittest.
Thankfully, Nehemiah, Queen Victoria, Princess Ruth, King Arthur and Mr. Fluffy Pants all survived, along with 3 other nameless chickens. The feathery remains of 5 or 6 others were found around the yard, their yellow and indigestible talons, on the bottom. The remainder, for all we know, may have migrated to other farms or the wild.
If you will excuse the Orwellian barnyard analogy, at-risk boys are a lot like chickens whose guardians, like my wife and I, are often guilty of stupidity and ignorance. Some are devoured by wild animals. Others fly the coup, and make it best they can on the streets, or wandering the highways and byways of America.
Some, we hope, can find haven at Whetstone Boys Ranch.