I am currently reading Coop, A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg, by an author named Michael Perry. This is the first time I have read his work and I love it. Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Dryly humorous, mildly neurotic, and just plain soulful––a book that might even make you want to buy a few chickens.”
I think he’s hilarious.
The book zigzags between his childhood experiences on his family’s farm and his own farm with his wife and two daughters. The recurring theme is that he hopes to raise chickens but first he must build a coop. Of course, a lot of life takes place in between. He is a writer and musician with a family and deadlines always on his mind. The coop is literally under construction throughout the whole book.
There are several incidents in the book that made me nostalgic about my own chicken experiences and I just had to blog about one of them.
Before the year 2000 began, bringing with it the end of the world, as we know it, we lived in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and I made preparations for the apocalypse. I planted a vegetable garden. I purchased a 500-gallon portable plastic water tank, installed it under our house and topped it off. I bought cases of canned food and stashed them in my office. I visited a poultry farm in Kealakekua and purchased four fully-grown white laying hens. I don’t remember their breed. Since we lived in a housing development with a homeowners association that didn’t allow barnyard animals, the four squawking hens rode home incognito in a burlap sack in the back of my pickup truck so the neighbors wouldn’t see them.
Bob was incredulous when the chickens arrived, but agreed to build them a coop in the back yard. Placement was a primary concern. He built it on stilts, not far from the vegetable garden, directly over the compost heap. I figured that way the chickens would enrich the compost with their poop and I could enrich my garden.
I fed them organic pellets, cracked corn, calcium and grit. They scratched happily on the lawn and in the garden for bugs. After a while they produced four eggs daily. Then one day I heard a ruckus in the back yard. By the time I got there a mongoose was gnawing at the bloody neck of one of the chickens. I hadn’t taken into account these prolific critters, introduced to Hawaii in 1883 to control rats in the cane fields. I tossed the dead bird out into the lava field beyond, and shooed the other squawking chickens back to their coop.
The curly-haired boy across the street heard the to-do and became suspicious. Had he really heard chickens? He wanted to check so he collected a few of his friends and they sneaked through the vacant lot next to our house and around to our back fence. I heard them snooping and rushed out to see what they wanted.
“We heard chickens,” the neighbor boy said.
“No chickens here, but you’d better be careful of that field,” I warned. “A lava tube could collapse and bury you, and no one would ever know.” But they knew what they had heard.
A few days later the boy’s golden retriever decided to check, too. I saw it jump over the gate and, while I watched, grabbed a chicken and ran across the street with bird in its mouth.
I am inclined toward nervous laughter or inappropriate humor when accidents happen, and I thought at the time: “that’s why a chicken crosses the road.” I followed the running dog with the dangling chicken in its jaws, right into my neighbor’s driveway. Too late. The bird was dead. Red blood streaked its white feathers.
My young neighbor saw the whole incident and boasted aloud: “My dad didn’t believe me when I told him I heard chickens, but now he will.”
A second mongoose attacked days later. When I heard the commotion I looked out to see the weasel-like creature standing on its hind legs, stretched up under the cage and clawing at the chicken wire with its front paws. The remaining agitated chickens clucked so loud the whole neighborhood probably heard them. I ran down the back stairs and chased the mongoose out of the yard. Soon, someone was going to call the homeowners association and a cease and desist letter would arrive any day.
The earlier dog incident reduced our supply of fresh eggs to just two per day. As I scrambled them, I wondered when a letter from the homeowner’s association would end forever my chicken-farming endeavor.
A mongoose only hunts in daylight so I knew that if the chickens made it to evening, they were safe for another night. But standing guard over them each day was taking its toll on my business. I decided they would be safer if I found a more protected home for the two remaining hens. I gave them and their food supply to a friend with a flock of her own and an invader-proof coop. I saw her a few months after I gave her the birds and she revealed that one had escaped and run into the mountains up above her home. She figured it was dead. I didn’t ask how it happened.
And then there was one.
We all know that the world didn’t end at the stroke of midnight on December 1999, but well before then I gave up chicken farming in favor of a powdered egg supply. I never learned what happened to that last chicken, but today I can hear hens clucking in my neighbor’s yard in Washington State. I’m tempted to see if I might have better luck up here.