Used to be and yet to come
The chirping of new life sounded. It's sweet sound has powers. Power so tenacious it has potential to bring a grown man to tears. Jack had been taking our eggs, with permission of course. Apparently he acquired some sort of incubator and has been hatching a plan to raise some fresh birds for his patch. As a sign of gratitude he arrived one day, as he does, with something for us. Sometimes he'll bring us a few tomato, a zucchini or three. There's always something coming from his garden to ours. One day last summer he even brought us a wheel barrow full of giant pumpkins! This visit however, the gift was not a barrow laden with nuclear powered pumpkin, instead it was the tiniest of creatures, miniature in size, humungous in potential. Jack's small cardboard box was filled with the chirp chirp of new life. A handful of chicks and duckings huddled in the corner, keeping each other warm and seemingly providing each other with moral support. We're thankful to Jack for his gift. We also had a delivery of our own to be thankful for.
Keeping chooks has been a priority for me over the last decade. When I first moved out of the city I kept a few in our town backyard. In recent houses, I've kept a few chooks, with the exception of a few rentals. When I was a kid my uncle and I built a chook house we called 'the hilton' due to its over engineered construction. He welded the frame and we set out a concrete slab. Talk about over kill. But the chooks seemed happy and returned us with eggs for the kitchen. 25 years later and I still have these feathered beasts in my world. This winter they've been a real Godsend. I've been playing catch up in the veg garden since we moved house in winter. The chooks filled the gaps for us food wise. This past winter I enjoyed many chard, chorizo and egg breakfasts. I've made many pastas, shaksouka, tortilla esponola, aioli, mayonnaise, quiche, frittata you name it! Kate's baked hundreds of sweet treats for the kids; cakes, slices and endless morning pancakes. Chooks are an integral part of surviving for us. We'd be lost without them.
It's very cliche that we associate new born chicks with spring, but its one of those rare cliches that is honest. It's in late winter and early spring that 'Rooster Cogburn' gets to work on the ladies. Last year he seemed a bit awkward and kept to himself. But this year he's struggled to keep it in his pants. In fact he's been behaving like a randy teenager on schoolies week. The act itself seems rather brutal, nonetheless the ladies don't seem to mind! With a shuffle and ruffle of feathers they go back about their business, like nothing happened. Absolutely zero pillow talk and definitely no cuddles.
One of the hens became clucky, just as she did last year. Maybe she's a White Suffolk, I'm not exactly sure what breed she is, to me its more valuable to know that she's a working chook. To the kids shes known as 'Peacock', which makes me laugh, not so much because of the name but more so at us adults and our high an mighty ways "don't ever name your farm animals" I get told. I'm not in the habbit of naming farm animals (apart from Rooster Cogburn...come on I didn't have a choice with that one), but kids will be kids, I let them have their way, especially when no harm is done. So here is Peacock getting all cosy on some eggs, and with this springtime habit well set in, I took it as a fair sign that it was time to mark a dozen eggs and sit an wait. In 20 days more or less, fingers crossed we might have some baby chooks.
Weeks past. The hen sat very diligently on those eggs. Darting off only when when I'd fed them, even then sometimes she refused to get off her cosy spot at all. Her commitment was admirable. I didn't keep a record of how many days exactly she'd been sitting, I just figured on investigating the progress as the weeks got closer to the 20 day mark. When it did come to that time I checked on her collection of warm eggs more ardently. Nothing at first, but sure enough, one sunny spring day whilst tending the patch, I heard the faint chirp of new life. The other hens seemed to be acting odd too, they were aware something was brewing. I handled that girl gently, and underneath her maternal feathers was a sweet little chick, all new and clumsy. What a beautiful sight to see. It's gems like this, moments like this that make everything worthwhile.
The experience gives you hope. When a great deal of the world just doesn't make sense. When you question what you do and why you do it, it's moments like this that provide some comfort. Its a reminder that life is beautiful. Its unfathomable magic. All the information to make that animal is in those eggs. The eggs we whisk, boil, bake and fry. Nature is far more complex and advanced than we can imagine. Yet by living this mad western life, we treat her with disregard. It's beautiful to see that furry bundle of hope, chirping in my hands. Tender. Vulnerable. So full of potential.
It's a pity keeping chooks isn't as popular as it once was. I guess it's easier to buy cheap eggs and chicken products from supermarkets and take away places. But for ages humans have relied on these beautiful garbage disposal units. We've loved them as part of our gardens, part of our lives. It used to be most backyards in Australia had a chook shed, maybe that tradition may return.