Back in the 90's I raised a bunch of chicken flocks and became an avid lover of all things chickens. I had chicken curtains, dishes, car seat covers, and rooster slippers. My chickens held me captive with their antics, pecking orders, and simple way of life. I gave them feed and kitchen scraps, they gave me fresh food, gifts for my friends and family, and organics for my gardens. They didn't require cuddling, heat, or vet visits. Yet, they were always happy to see me and never failed to provide a learning and sometimes silly entertainment. For this frugal, resourceful, and very busy gal, chickens were the ideal mini eco-system that taught me a lot about managing a simple life.
Having a working chicken flock at Miss Maple's Nature House was a priority because I knew the investment would provide the children with so many life skill opportunities and free, intriguing, funny and sometimes disappointing discoveries. Children would be able to experience first-hand nature's life-cycle. From conception to egg, hatching to growing, maturing to dying, and back around again. They could watch the flocks natural pecking order in action and recognize that each chicken is different, yet they're all are the same. A flock would gift us countless lessons in cooking (scrambled eggs, baking with eggs), math skills (tracking daily egg counts, selling eggs), and animal husbandry. And they'd learn to care for a living being and to show gratitude for the gifts the animal gave us.
With snow still on the ground in March, I constructed a raised coop from recycled materials and completed the set-up with a mesh-enclosed pen all thoughtfully placed under our majestic Old Elm tree. There the flock would enjoy shade and breeze and we could access them easily and see them from inside our house. This past spring, we welcomed two different flocks of a dozen day-old chicks, strategically ordered one month apart. The first few months of a chicks life are critical and over the summer, we lost a few and gave away a few. Today we have a solid flock of seven hens and an unexpected roo we call "Bernie".
Bernie started life as "Big Bertha", so named because 'she' was the biggest of our new chicks and clearly the one in charge. She demanded first access in/out of the coop and at the waterer, pecking at the others to keep them inline. She was also the most colorful and was developing a bright crimson comb, not seeming to match the hen descriptions of the breeds we thought we had purchased.... Gold Comet, Black Austrolop, Barred Rocks. And then one day, at about 10 weeks old, I heard a weak "cock-a-doodle". And I thought, what/who was that? The next day, it happened again, twice. It wasn't a strong or complete "cock-a-doodle-doo" yet. Reminded me of a teen-age boy who's voice is maturing and cracking. As the sound became more of a regular occurrence, I zeroed in on who was making this now obvious rooster call and it was Bertha!
From that day on Bertha became our "Bernie". He continued to develop his feathers in deep, variegated colors of rust, cream, charcoal, and gray. His comb became redder and his chest more robust. He is a gentle rooster, not too territorial or aggressive with us humans. In fact, when the flock is out free-ranging, he'll come up to us and give a little Bernie dance. It's a back and forth side-step that inches him closer to our feet with each pass. He flexes his right wing out and down, as if waiting for us to reciprocate our 'wing' to him. We can kneel down to Bernie, offering our arm/hand, which he'll like take a poke at, his way of saying "I like you." He doesn't do this dance for his hens, for them he seems to get right down to business with no courting or dancing offered.
We love our chickens!: Blackie, Marigold (our double-yolker), Broken-Toe, Cruella, and of course, our beloved Bernie who has fast become Miss Maple's House mascot. A gentle, pretty, and funny bird who rules his roost with a soft wing. He's an unexpected addition to our young flock and we can't wait to see if he blesses us with any little Bernie/Bertha's in the spring.