A thought occurred to me the other day while at Tractor Supply Company. There are milestones in each of our lives. Learning to tie your shoe, to blow a bubble with bubble gum. Learning to ride a bike or your first car keys. For some of us, the lucky ones in my opinion, will add to that list of life experiences the joy of bringing home your first box of chicks. For those of us who haven’t grown up on a farm, it’s an experience worth noting. And whether that first box makes it way home when your eight or eighty you’ll never forget it.
On this particular trip to TSC, Zach wanted to purchase a wire wheel to polish his blacksmithing items and we separated in the store, each going our own browsing way. I gave him a little wave and said “You know where to find me.”
“Oh yes” he replied and rolled his eyes in good natured annoyance.
Standing around the duck and chick bins I rested my chin on the cattle fence enclosure surrounding the galvanized water troughs. Each trough was filled with pine chips and dozens of chirping birds. That familiar chick smell, not bad…just familiar. A sweet sort of earthy, grainy smell of feed and the peppery smell of pine chips mixed with the slightest hint of bird. Once you have chickens you know the scent…a mild, dusty, dry scent that for me, will forever conjure the memory of chickens and my adolescence.
Some of the chicks were yellow, or cream, some red or black and white, some brown with tiny pin feathers sprouting out in speckles. Their glossy eyes bright and sparkling. Some were busy scratching or eating, or drinking, some nodding off and rocking in the comfortable drunkenness of the heat lamps. Some were piled in the corner, a sleeping, breathing mass of delicate fluff with lumps of heads, bodies and wings each melting into the next in an undecipherable blend of chick anatomy.
As interesting as the chicks were, and as much as I enjoyed watching them, the array of humans standing around the chicks were even more captivating. And it was in this observance that I noticed the effect that chickens can have on people. There was a nicely dressed couple with a little girl maybe around eight years old. The father stood tall leaning over the rail with a bag of dogfood in his arms. The mother and daughter chatted excitedly pointing to this one and that one with exclamations, giggles and several “aw”’s. The dad had that look on his face… That look like “what am I getting myself into”. The look I’ve seen from my own father, and even from Zach at times. He was clearly loosing this half hearted battle against the chicks coming home, and good naturedly too. He kept smiling and shaking his head…The little girl flashed him a well played smile with big doe eyes and he caved, the wife looking just as pleased as the little girl.
They had clearly never raised chicks before as they began asking the sales woman an array of newby questions like what did chickens eat, did they need a rooster for eggs, etc. An older woman who was also peering over the cattle fencing struck up in conversation with the mother. The older woman was clearly a horse woman. You can just tell. She was tall and slender, long silver hair tied back in a traditional pony tail revealing kind eyes and wise skin. She was wearing very blue, fitted jeans and a white crisp oxford shirt with two pockets at the breast which gave it a Western look, tucked in neatly. If there was any doubt, a quick look in her cart boasted two bags of Dumar horse feed and some sort of nylon bridle type thing. A shot of envy jabbed me in the heart…I love horses.
The two women were soon immersed in chicken talk and laughing at a story the horse woman was telling about raising chicks in the bathroom.
Soon another woman came in flushed and frazzled carrying pieces of paper. She matter-of-factly addressed the sales woman who was chasing chicks around one of the bins at the little girls request. “That one, the one with the black around its eyes…yes that one!” As the little girl clasped her hands together and let out a squeal of delight as another chick joined the others in the folded cardboard box.
The flustered woman interrupted and with a look of desperation asked if the employee could help her sort “this” all out when she was done boxing up the chicks, motioning to the stack of rumpled papers in her hand. The flustered woman soon joined the conversation with the others stating something about 4-H and shaking the papers towards the horse woman and the mother in frustration that she didn’t know what she was doing and her children needed chickens for a project. After much laughing and sharing of stories the lady looked much more calm and reassured that picking out broilers was not going to be as hard as she might expect.
Zach soon joined me with wire wheel in hand and asked if there was anything I couldn’t live without. I smiled and shook my head as we headed toward the cash registers.
I could still hear the chatting and laughter behind me as the saleswoman joined the conversation with her own tale of a customer who asked if the chickens turned out to be roosters if there was a return policy, which prompted the horse woman to tell a tale of a mean rooster she once had that would chase her and her brothers around. The stories soon dimmed into a muffled chatter as we got out of ear range, but I knew that they were all still back there telling their chicken tales and enjoying the company of like-minded souls.
What is it about these little animals that bring such joy? That assemble a spirit of camaraderie between six strangers all from different walks of life, different ages, different levels of experience with chickens? What is it about them that makes us want one of each kind, one of each color and variety? Why do we spend the glory of spring time weather scooping piles of winter droppings and hauling heavy bags of feed? Why do we trudge outside in the bleak of winter hauling buckets of hot water to thirsty birds? Is it really the eggs? I think it’s something more.
I think it may be different for each of us. For me it was an incite into the world I would only know in books. A time that’s only captured in words. The Laura Ingalls, Anne of Green Gable romantic side of me that I never grew out of. Instead I carried it into my adulthood and am that much happier for it. Who fell in love with the nostalgia of a time when people rose with the cock’s crow and gathered eggs in their apron tails.
The little girl in the store, who pridefully held her precious box of chirping chicks is just beginning her journey. Even if she grows up and moves to a loft in New York City, you always remember your first chicks.
Share your memories with us! Tell us about your first chicks by leaving a comment below, or visiting the Community Chickens Facebook Page.