My very first chickens were very long ago when I was a little girl. They were Bantams which I thought, back then, were a breed. There was an adorable little rooster with pluck, five tiny hens and one only baby chick. I don’t know how they came in that assortment or even from where but my favorite was the “Little Chick.”
My father, the last of a long line of family veterinarians, had a small-animal practice in our hometown in New Jersey. Aside from checkups, shots, and surgeries, his practice also included boarding for dogs and cats during the summer. The cats definitely had the more appealing accommodations.
The structure was an outdoor chicken-wire mega-cage with side-by-side 4’X10’ wired runs and an enclosed hall the length of the 20 or so individual doorways. Even tricky cats couldn’t escape beyond the communal area if the person charged with feeding them remembered to close the main door at the end of the hall.
Each run in this structure under the massive willow tree and discreetly tucked behind a manicured hedge was equipped with a roomy wooden house with picture window and shingled roof. The cats could be seen above the hedge only when they were sunning themselves on their little rooftops. The floors of the runs were all sand raked out daily.
This was where my first chicken flock got to live too. They had the honor (and the security) of living in the first run, where I could sit on the little concrete ledge outside and visit with them from the side of the pen with the outer door. I could enter their pen too as long as I remembered to close the outer door and watch out to not step on Baby Chick.
Dad’s clients would always be drawn to the cat runs to have a look at the vacationing kitties on their way out of his office across the driveway. And they’d always get an extra thrill when they’d discover the little band of chickens in the pen on the end. In fact, when the mighty little rooster crowed from atop his wooden house, the audience also always included every cat down the way. They’d clamber up on their own roofs to catch a glimpse, tails twirling and whiskers flicking.
When summer was over and the cats had all gone home, my parents decided that the little bantams wouldn’t winter well outdoors so we took them to a petting zoo. I got to visit often and the chickens had much more compatible neighbors there.
I didn’t have chickens again for decades, having lived a pretty much urban life as a working adult. Not until I landed on a former dairy farm in the hills of West Virginia (my retirement) did it occur to me to “raise a few chickens.” It’s been a love affair ever since and might even be as a result of my first little flock in the cat run long ago.