Today’s topic is: “Do you have any pets? Share an unusual story about them.”
When I was young, my family lived on 100 acres in northeastern Vermont and we had several types of pets over the years. There were cats, dogs, and a hamster or two.
Yet I also remember brushing sharp-toenailed Angora rabbits to harvest their ultra-soft wool, keeping a pair of flying squirrels in a cage in the foyer, and watching a slew of baby chicks (who were being raised for meat, I suppose) fight over the sticky-footed June bugs that I’d drop into their pen.
But the most unusual pet from my childhood was a baby crow who lived for quite some time on a perch in our living room. I remember that my sister and I tried to train it to talk like a parrot! We named it Polly, of course, and fed it an obscene number of crackers, sadly to no avail.
As an adult, when I lived by myself in Boston, I had a huge, lovable cat named Clark. Like his namesake (Clark Kent/Superman), just knowing he was around made me feel happy.
Now that I live in the country, on a 20-acre hobby farm, we have no cats or dogs, or pigs, sheep, horses, or cows for that matter. Instead, we have a small flock of chickens. And they are less like pets and more like employees. None of them have been assigned names or receive special treatment.
Last spring, my husband brought home a handful of hens and a colorful Bantam rooster. When two of the hens decided they wanted to sit on eggs, we let them. Eleven chicks hatched out (8 pullets and 3 cockerels). Young and old plodded around the farm together all summer and fall. When the snow came, we decided it wasn’t worth keeping the males (and they were too small to butcher). So those three young roosters and their Banty father disappeared naturally after a few nights outside the protection of the coop, most likely due to a hungry fox, raccoon, or owl.
Today, we have 14 hens, each one unique in size and color. The 10-12 eggs they lay each day are all different too. About half are pint-size eggs due to the young hen’s Bantam paternity. Some of the eggs are dark brown, others light brown, and a couple are speckled. One of our hens even lays pale green eggs (which are beautiful, yet difficult to capture in photographs).
We offer a pretty good lifestyle for our hens, I think. Every morning, we let them out of the coop, which is located just inside the old barn. Throughout the day, they wander around in the grass and woods, digging in the soil and eating whatever they can find. At some point, one-by-one, they shuffle back to the barn to lay their eggs in the designated boxes. Then just before sunset, the whole flock returns to the safety of the coop to roost together overnight.
At least, that’s what usually happens. However, a few nights ago, I went out at dusk to collect the eggs and lock the door but when I went inside, there were no chickens! It had been a very windy day (with 50 mph gusts) and I wondered if they were hiding under the pine trees until the wind died down. I decided to collect the eggs and then go look for the hens before it got too dark. As I reached into the first egg box, I suddenly became aware of the presence of an enormous opossum lumbering just inches below the box! It was about 18 inches long, not including the tail. It didn’t seem to mind my arrival, but I instinctively let out a short exclamation, turned right around, and headed for the house, empty-handed. A few minutes later, my husband went out to encourage the opossum to leave, but it had already shuffled on, into the back of the old barn. When I was pretty sure the coast was clear, I ventured back out for the eggs and found all 14 hens had returned to their roost as if nothing had happened.
It turns out that opossums aren’t usually dangerous to people. If threatened, they play dead and emit a foul smell that says “Leave me alone, I’m already rotting.” According to the Opossum Society of the United States, they don’t carry rabies like raccoons can and they eat spiders, beetles, rats, mice, and snakes. That made me wish a few opossums would decide to stick around the farm. Just not inside my chicken coop at dusk, please.
I’d love to hear your unusual pet story in the comments.
~ Phoebe DeCook
(P.S. The FREE PIE giveaway ends tonight at midnight. Be sure to enter now!)