Strange Birds

Check out them legs!Last Easter, three-year-old Oscar picked out two baby chicks to add to our small backyard flock of laying hens. One was Peeps yellow and fuzzy, while the other was a darkish mottled little animal. We set them up in a metal basin in my studio. Within a short time, the yellow bird ballooned in size and turned stark white. I could almost hear her growing. Not much grew on the little brown bird, except for her legs. I assumed something was wrong with Little Brown.

Two months later, the new girls were introduced to the old girls. The resident birds were ruthless toward Big White. She was slow and apparently stupid. Little Brown, on the other hand, was fast, crafty, and could even fly a bit when she needed to. She had to watch her back pretty regularly, but she integrated fairly well.

Big White soon weighed roughly double what our two-year-old laying hens did. She tripped on herself and was regularly filthy. I did some research and quickly determined that Big White was a genetically engineered animal designed to grow gigantic breasts. Once the intial ickiness wore off, my research topic shifted, with unease, to butchery.

The next day, I went out to check on the chickens and found Big White dead in the nesting box. I put her in a five gallon bucket, loaded her in the truck, and drove her out to the desert. I hiked out a ways and nestled her under a large juniper. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it felt better than burying her or throwing her away. Eating a sick chicken didn't feel safe (although a vegan friend accutely observed that I have likely eaten a great number of sick (supermarket) chickens before without protest).

The first (and only?) eggBut Little Brown endured, and eventually thrived. We waited for her to be a rooster or a road runner or god knows what because her body shape and legs and tail feathers are all strange. She developed an outsider kind of energy, which made me increasingly attached to her. Then she laid an egg! It was a touch bigger than a cherry tomato. Then some time passed without eggs and I wondered if her egg-laying career was over. But now...she is our most reliable layer. I never thought I'd be proud of a chicken (or whatever she is), but it seems that's exactly how I feel.