The soap opera in the back yard
One of my favorite things to do on a warm summer’s evening is sit in the back yard and watch my chickens. I consider them mobile lawn ornaments, and their behaviors and interactions fascinate me.
I was doing just that one day last week when a buddy stopped by and as we sat sipping a cold one, he asked a peculiar question: “Do chickens have personalities?” I couldn’t help but look at him incredulously. Since I have raised these birds from day-old chicks I know each one’s likes and dislikes, their habits and peculiar ways. And, at the risk of sounding like some kind of crackpot, I even know what they mean by their different clucks, crows and cackles.
Right now, my flock consists of five hens and three roosters. All have names and I bet I could make money if I filmed them and submitted this masterpiece to a soap opera channel. “As the Coop Turns” or “The Guiding Egg” or “The Young and the Restless Roosters” would all be appropriate titles.
Take, for instance, the rooster named Redneck and his favorite hen, Penny. Redneck is a stern defender of her honor, yet Buster, a burly Brahma, spends hours trying to get this beautiful red hen off by herself. Freckles is a lovely bird, but happily promiscuous and the boys take turns fulfilling her every wish. This riles up Mrs. Feinstein, the Transylvania naked neck hen, and a bird so homely every rooster shuns her. Danny, a small-boned male, is a conniver and spends his time purposely trying to agitate his coopmates by stealing their women, their food and their dignity, if that’s possible in a chicken. The trials and tribulations go on and on, day in and day out, all happily observed by me.
As I explained this to my friend, he looked at me as if I were completely daft. But his expression really deepened when I started translating what the chickens were actually saying. “Hear that low and growly cackle?” I said. “That means there’s going to be a fight.” And sure enough, Buster and Danny went at it in a flurry of hackles and flying feet.
“Hear that soft cluck, cluck, cluck from Penny?” I asked. “That brings Redneck a-running.” And as if on cue, the bird came barreling from behind the barn to do her bidding. “Hear that long and drawn out crow from Buster? That means he’s declaring his supremacy.”
My friend seemed impressed. “Boy you’re a regular chicken whisperer,” he said with some jocularity and surprisingly, this made me kind of proud. I mean, it does take a lot of observing to interpret all these behaviors and sounds.
And as if all this entertainment isn’t enough, I get to gather eggs every morning from my coop and so this week, I’m including two recipes I love making in the summer months. The pickled eggs are particularly popular and I always make a double batch.
You know, there are all kinds of entertainment forms and I’m glad I get to watch my flock interact after a hard day at work. For me, there’s nothing better, or more relaxing, than observing the day-in and day-out drama of these birds; worthy, in my opinion, of any day-time Emmy award for sure.
Grandpa’s Pickled Eggs
1 (15 oz.) can red beets
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cold water
1/2 tsp. salt
4 whole cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
Pour the juice from the beets into a medium-size pot. Stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, water, salt, cloves and cinnamon stick. Over medium heat, stir this mixture for about eight minutes. Place the beets into the liquid mixture and cook for an additional two minutes to allow the beets to heat. Place the hard cooked eggs (with the shells removed) in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the liquid and beets into the container with the eggs. Store the container in the refrigerator for approximately five days before eating.
Deviled Egg Salad
12 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
3 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs. cider, white wine or sherry vinegar
A few drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce
1/4 tsp. paprika
Salt and black pepper to taste
Chop the eggs coarsely and put them into a large bowl. Add the green onion, celery, red bell pepper.
In small bowl, mix together the mayo, mustard, vinegar and Tabasco. Gently stir the mayo dressing mixture into the bowl with the eggs and vegetables. Add paprika, salt and black pepper to taste. Serve chilled.