The Minnesota Farm Woman

by Chris Quaal Vinson

Counting my chickens

Don’t laugh when I say this, but chickens are not polite. They cluck, they peck at each other, and they push each other out of the way when dinner is served. They are especially hard to count in the evening when I lock them in the coop for the night. I entice them in by feeding them. Sundown also draws them in, but during the summer months, sundown comes long after I am ready to go inside and call it a night, so I have to resort to bribery. I always count those chickens before I close the door. Seventeen. Six yellow, six black, two red, one white, and one black with white speckles. Oh, that’s only sixteen. I always forget the broody one who never seems to leave the nesting box, even though there are never any eggs underneath her. I always check, and she always pecks me. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon yesterday, and I was multitasking by simultaneously hanging sheets out on the line and admiring my beautiful zucchini plants. Bees were buzzing in the hollyhocks and Barney the Chihuahua was on a long leash, sunning himself. The chickens were all over the place, either searching for worms and bugs in the sunshine or searching for worms and bugs in the shade. All was right with the world. All of a sudden, I heard an awful shriek. It sounded like a screaming chicken getting carried off by a wolf or an eagle…or something. I looked up to the sky first, but saw nothing. The chickens that were in the yard heard it also, and ran for cover. Barney’s ears perked up and he stood, looking south, toward the old pole barn. I needed to check out the source of the shriek, but am pretty squeamish and didn’t want to find a pile of bloody feathers, nor did I want to come upon a rabid wolf or coyote eating one of my beloved hens. Still, if I am to call myself a Farm Woman, I needed to check it out. Another shriek pierced the silence. Slowly, carefully, and filled with apprehension, I walked back toward the barn, clapping my hands and whistling. The whistle calls the hens, who think it is dinner time, and the clapping of hands is to scare away the wolves. I saw no pile of feathers and thankfully, no wolves. In fact, I saw nothing but a bunch of chickens cowering under the bushes. Right before sundown, I tossed out some feed and counted my chickens as they came in the door: Six yellow, six black, two red, one white, and one black with white speckles. Sixteen. As I expected, one was gone to chicken heaven. I was very sad until I started gathering the eggs, and realized that once again, I had forgotton to count the one who never leaves the nesting box. There she was, broody and glaring and beautiful. I reached under her for the egg that is never there, and this time, I was happy to get pecked. As for the awful shrieks coming from behind the pole barn? I don’t want to know, and I hope you don’t either.

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