Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 14, 2014

And then there was Three

I watched as she slowly made her way across the porch, her movements jerky with a head that bobbed as she put one foot in front of the other. She jumped onto the Adirondack chair and tilted her head as if it say, "Aren't I pretty?"

Her name is Three, which is certainly unusual, but then, most people don't name their chickens! Three belongs to friend JoAnn - although at times it seems the other way around. Home for them is a small farm in southwestern Wisconsin.

I probably developed my affinity for chickens on our Marion County, Kansas farm. The turning point for me may have been the time when the light went out in the brooder house. I no longer recall the details, but I knew they had to be kept warm, so Dad and Mom herded 25 or more peeping chicks into a corner of the living room to spend the night. I was enthralled with the soft yellow puffballs. Sister Gaila was as well.

"... I remember the glass watering dishes and the long metal feeder. We had to put a lamp over them to keep them warm. I loved picking them up and cuddling them even when they would poop in my hands. They were sooooo cute and fluffy."

Gaila, brother Dave and I were responsible for feeding and watering the chickens and gathering their eggs. Later, Dave decided raising them might be a good way to make some money.

Chickens were my way of earning income to buy comics, etc. My first venture was buying 25 chicks on my own from some outlet in Florence, [Kansas], raising them, feeding them, etc. Gathering eggs daily and delivering several dozen eggs weekly to customers in town for, I think, $.25/dozen. Several hens were killed by raccoons, so my flock was depleted over time. I believe I went through several batches of chickens until I quit.

But while Gaila loved the chicks, she didn't care for the adults - and that is putting it mildly.

"I hated the chickens," Gaila said. "I would stand in the doorway while you went to gather the eggs. Even then, they would all fly around my head and flap their wings ..."

Many of them were destined to become Sunday fried chicken, but the process for getting them from yard to plate was not a pleasant one. It involved a hatchet, a "chicken running around with its head cut off," scalding water and the smell of wet feathers.

"Dad cut off the head of one and it chased me around the school bus about two to three times until it finally died," Gaila said. "I had nightmares for a long time after that."

JoAnn had a similar experience. She grew up in the city, but her family would visit her grandparents' farm. Jo thought her grandmother made the best chicken and noodles. But her affection for the dish was dearly tested when she happened to be visiting at the farm one day when the hatchet come out. Jo declared she was never going to eat chicken again.

Smiling at the recollection of her childhood decision, she added, "But then I did because it tasted so good."

Three is the lone survivor of three Barred Rock hens JoAnn bought in June 2013 from her neighbor Harriet. The chicks were 4 months old and she named them One, Two and Three. At 6 months, they started laying eggs.

But before long, Two disappeared. Jo never found any trace of her, but assumes a wild animal got into the hen house.

One was next.

"I was late getting them into the hen house," Jo said about that evening. "Three was in the window freaking out. I had a flashlight and I could see that the nesting box was full of feathers with a trail of feathers to the door."

Jo found much of One's body on the driveway. It could have been a coyote, fox, raccoon, weasel or possum that got her. It took Three about a week to get over her skittishness.

But now, she goes about her business, exploring the nearby grass or eating the chicken mash, leftover cat food and veggies Jo leaves for her on the porch. She is fond of rice and pasta and likes shredded cheese for a bedtime treat. Three lays an egg a day for two days in a row and then usually takes a day off.

But her similarity to other chickens stops there. A good example of her unusual behavior is what happened when the couple who used to farm Jo's family's land in Iowa stopped by this past summer. While they were visiting on the porch, Three joined them, first jumping onto the arm of Bob's chair and then onto his lap. He was a bit taken aback and said he had never had any chicken do that before. But by the time they were ready to leave, he was used to Three's friendly way and told JoAnne, "Now you take care of my buddy!"

Three has also formed a friendship with a recent arrival at the farm - a small buff-colored kitten that just appeared one day. Jo named the cat Starvin Marvin or Lil' Marvin - LM for short.

Yet it was not at all clear at the beginning they would be friends. Jo has two other cats whose food dishes are in the house. She explained how the friendship developed:

"Lil' Marvin has imprinted on Three since I always put leftover cat food out for the chicken in the morning, and LM thought it was for him. Of course, Three thought otherwise, so some serious head-pecking was employed on LM, but it didn't seem to deter him. By now they eat together more or less in peace, and I've watched LM rub up against Three many times, as well as follow Three around ... LM seems to enjoy jumping out at Three from behind some garlic chive plants, whereupon Three will chase LM up a tree. They are hysterical to watch. LM clearly thinks Three is a playmate."

On more than one occasion, I've half-joked to Art and daughters Mariya and Katie that when I retire, I want to live on a little farm with alpacas and chickens. So it's no surprise that among other things on my kitchen hutch is a kitschy collection of salt-and-pepper shakers, pitchers and other items, all with a hen and rooster theme. And recently there has been another addition - a framed picture of Three.

Left: Three greets Bob; center: in all her glory; right; Marvin waiting his turn.

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