Cute.

I had no idea that you could buy chicks at a store. I’m not sure where I thought people bought them, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t from a retailer that not only sold farm supplies, but also sold a wide assortment of food and country/western clothing and giant bags of sugared orange slices at the front counter. When I was young, living in that small Illinois town, I remember riding my bike every morning to the post office to get the mail. In the springtime, the post office would be filled with the sound of frantic peeping when the local farmers’ chicks arrived in big boxes with holes in the sides. This whole idea of just walking into a store and picking out baby chicks was completely foreign. Where I’d lived near Chicago, when you bought chickens in a store, you usually bought a couple of bottles of barbecue sauce too. Now we were on our way to the farm store and I had no idea what was waiting there. I was nearly insane with excitement.

The “CHICK DAYS” banner was stretched across the front of the store when we pulled up. Apparently, this was a big deal down here in southern Indiana. I’d been to this particular store before and it’s very “no frills”…although they do have free popcorn in a large popping machine with a warmer at the front of the store that was usually surrounded by old guys in seed corn company hats and plaid shirts. I didn’t remember ever seeing live animals of any kind for sale, so I had no idea where to find these alleged chicks who were the unwitting stars of “CHICK DAYS”. My son pointed to the floor.

The concrete was painted with yellow chicken tracks that trailed toward the back of the store. I think I might have squealed a bit…maybe jumped up and down a little…and then set off following the tracks. My son and husband followed behind me in a single file line. We followed the tracks toward the back corner of the store (I might have been skipping) and suddenly my son broke the single line formation and rushed past me. In the furthest back corner of the store were stock tanks set up with warming lights…lots of them. We had arrived at what I would come to call “Chicktopia”.

Each stock tank was labeled on the outside with the name of the breed of bird that it contained. I didn’t really pay much attention to it because inside the tanks was an undulating sea of yellow, constantly peeping fuzzy down. They were pecking tiny food crumbles from long feeders, stomping all over each other and just being generally adorable. I almost had to lie down from the overload of adorable. My son (who is 21), was smitten. I was a little sweaty. How in the world do you pick out chicks? I mean, you can’t go by picking out a “cute” one…you’d be there for the rest of your life. After walking from tank to tank for what seemed like hours, I finally stopped at a tank in the corner filled with an assortment of chicks of different breeds. All I could think about was my trillion dollar egg business as I watched the chicks totter around the tank on their tiny baby feet. The sign above the tank said “SIX CHICK MINIMUM PURCHASE”. Six? I’m good with six. A kid working at the store scuffed over with a cardboard box chick carrier and said wearily “Anything I can help you with?” I managed to get out something about wanting chicks…but only six…and watched while he and my son scooped three black chicks and three chipmunk colored chicks into the waiting box.

My husband was trying to figure out where we were going to keep these things and finally settled on a black, rubber stock watering tank that wasn’t the size of a Prius. We picked out chick starter, grit, a heat lamp, feeders and other chick sundries while the box peeped incessantly in the cart. My son alternated between saying how cute they were and offering me recipe ideas. We finally made it to the checkout lanes with our chick stuff and our frantically peeping box and headed for the car…which is when I noticed that my son was wearing a sticker that said “I SAW THE CHICKS TODAY”. Did I mention he’s 21?

We got home with our new charges and set up the brooder box with fresh pine shavings, the heat lamp and food and water and added our new babies to their temporary home. They toddled around and sampled the food and water while breaking all laws about being cute. They were IMPOSSIBLY cute. I hung over the top of the brooder and was immediately, hopelessly and wildly in love with them.

An addiction was born…and I knew…I needed MORE.  I hadn’t read about chicken math yet.  Chicken math is a phenomenon that chicken owners are afflicted with and I apparently had a terrible case of it.  The ordinance I’d read said that where we lived, I could have more than six chickens.   If you’re stricken with chicken math, it doesn’t matter how many you already have, you always need more.

More.  Yep…that’s what I needed.

Hooked.

At some point, when I was really young, I fell in love with the country.   We lived in a small rural town in Illinois and although we could smell the stench when the local dairy farmer cleaned out his barn, I still felt as though I was a “city” girl.  Many of my friends lived in the country and I loved going to their farms, just to be out in the open ad see the animals and just the way everything smelled.  I couldn’t get enough.

Farms made my dad a wreck.  For some reason, he was convinced that a rogue farm implement was going to come careening out of nowhere and mow me down.  His second favorite scenario was that we would be somehow trampled by wild farm animals.  Since the anxiety of the thought of either of those two events made him nearly insane, I was not allowed to go to friends’ farm homes very often.  Which made me want to go even more.  By the time I was in junior high school, I was convinced that I would someday live on a farm…and would have to have my father sedated daily.

Every summer, I would spend about a week at my best friend/cousin’s farm.  If you look on a map for “Middle of Nowhere”, this farm was just south of there.  At least it seemed that way when you’re twelve.   I lived for that week in the summer when my aunt and cousin would come to visit for the day and I’d get to go home with them to their farm. A REAL farm.  Not one of those grain farm operations, although they did grow grain as well, this farm had all of the typical farm-type animals…cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and KITTENS.  The barn smelled of cattle and manure and above the cattle was the most glorious hayloft you’ve ever seen.  Huge soaring space sparkled with dust specs as sunlight streamed through the windows set high in the peak.  We would climb into the loft with a bag of my aunt’s giant chocolate chip cookies and lay in the sweet hay and eat cookies and laugh.  Convinced we were being horribly emotionally damaged by boredom, we would craft all sorts of schemes in that hayloft.  We never accomplished one of them, but it was always a good time to eat cookies and plan.

Every morning I’d awaken to the crowing of a rooster, the contented clucking of hens in the henhouse, the slamming of the doors of the pig feeder and the bleating of sheep.  We’d get dressed, eat chocolate cake or something equally inappropriate for breakfast, and head outside where we spent the entire day harassing the animals, eating all of the raspberries, or finding other trouble to get into.  I think that it was during those times at the farm, that I felt the happiest.  The days were long and hot, everything felt a little bit dusty, evenings seemed to stretch on forever.  In other words, it was perfect.  The worst part was returning back to town at the end of the week.

I turn fifty this 0048-Roosteryear.  I can hardly even write that without twitching.  For most of my life, I’ve lived in an urban setting.  Some were more urban than others.  For the majority of my life, I lived not far from Chicago.  Five years ago, I moved to southern Indiana and got a fresh look at “rural”.  I resisted it like a hooked trout for the first four years, complained non-stop and eventually in the last year or so, I’ve started to calm down about it.  I mean, it’s really not so bad.  It’s definitely a different way of life.  I came to appreciate the area though and the diverse landscape that it possesses.  We moved to a home at the edge of a large city that was at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision.   We are surrounded by oak trees with a field and a small lake behind us and a small swamp and creek that borders one side of the property.  The home is close enough to civilization for me to not freak out if I need to run to the store for something, but still “country” enough that when we sit on our deck at night we hear owls and during the day we see foxes, wild turkeys, hawks, eagles and we often see the hoof prints of deer down in the swampy area of the property.  It’s pretty sweet.

I’m an animal nut too.  Six dogs.  If I could cram more in the house, I would but in addition to cramming them in the house, I’d have to get them past my husband and it would probably end poorly.  So, I gave up on more dogs.  There was still something missing to the whole country feeling though.  Then one day we got the mail.

“CHICK DAYS”, proclaimed a newspaper flyer from a local farm store.  You can buy chickens at a store?  I poured through the flyer several times, fixated on the adorable pictures of baby chicks that seemed to be covering every square inch of the flyer.  My husband was shuffling through the rest of the mail, not at all noticing what I was looking at.  I held up the flyer with a ridiculously cute chick on it,

“Chick Days.”

“Yep”

“People can buy chickens?”

“You can have a few chickens in town here.”

I froze.  Chickens?   I LIKE chickens.  I LIKE eggs.  This seems completely plausible!

“I want to get chickens.”

“WHAT?”

“It would be soooooo fun.”

He thought for a minute.

“You can get some chickens.  Just find out the ordinances and stuff.  We can go later if you want.”

I sat there stupidly for a minute.  He won’t let me have another dog, but I can have chickens?  Huh.  I’m good with that.  And in a moment standing at the island in the kitchen, I became an urban farmer…at least in my own mind.  I knew very little about chickens.   I mean, of course I knew they laid eggs and roosters are boys and they stink to high heavens on a hot humid day, but I didn’t really know what they ate or how eggs were made or how they should live.  I recall thinking, it CAN’T be that hard, for Pete’s sake I have six dogs, I can surely handle some chickens.  Right?  Suddenly, I felt very important!  I was going to have CHICKENS.  Egg-laying-sweetly-clucking-beautifully-feathered CHICKENS.  I got a little giddy and soon I was not only planning on having a few chickens, but in my imagination I started selling fresh eggs, cultivated a huge garden and had a wildly successful farm stand that sold out of everything every day and made a trillion dollars.  I could hardly stand the excitement!  So forgetting that I knew nothing about chickens and just going with that feeling of “I’m going to make a trillion dollars on eggs.”  I made the decision to get chickens and my husband actually went along with it.

Turning fifty, getting chickens, living in a subdivision…this was exciting stuff!  I bounced around the house chattering wildly about chicks as we got ready to head to the farm store.  My son came into the house about that time and I gushed,

“WE’RE GETTING CHICKENS!”

After he stopped laughing, I shoved the “CHICK DAYS” flyer under his nose and he cooed stupidly at the chick on the front page.

I’d suckered another one into my plan.