I am the crazy lady in the neighborhood--the one who feeds the chickens.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time I thought the woman down the street who foraged the mounds of yard waste at the county dumpsite as an economical way to landscape her yard was the crazy one. Around the neighborhood, amidst eye-rolls and head-shakes, word spread one summer that the crazy plant lady was feeding the chickens. I’m talking about the feral chickens that roam the island in place of our wildlife, not the laying hens that provide us nourishment in the form of eggs. The same chickens and roosters that crow at all times of the day and night, not just dawn. The way in which the news of the then crazy lady spread from household to household as we passed each other on our morning walks or at the post office collecting our mail was something like the childhood game of telephone with tin cans attached by string. I am sure the story—complete with an arm-waving, dog-chasing, name-calling confrontation–changed with every telling. It was as if that crazy lady had 317 cats living in her house, as well. And she probably did. There’s such a neighbor on every block, isn’t there? And, now, I am her.
Today, returning home from the Anahola Post Office, where I learned that after a couple dozen years with the USPS, my buddy Brian retired without telling a soul, I pulled into our driveway and no fewer than six “yard” chickens ran up to greet me. Let’s see, there was Hoppy leading the charge. Blackie. Little Blackie YL. Blondie. Green Legs. And Ham. Did you know chickens can run at speeds of up to nine miles an hour?
I like to think we have my husband to blame. If he wasn’t such a softie, I’d never be wearing this metaphorical sign around my neck. You see, before we moved into this house that he built me, I wasn’t feeding chickens. I wasn’t even feeding my husband. He’s always been the cook in the house. Then, in addition to building me a house--in Hawaii, of all places—and cooking me gourmet meals, he went and rescued three orphaned chicks and put them in a box with a dish of water and a light bulb to warm them.
Eventually, after he built them a chicken coop, it fell to me to feed them. I’d rise every morning, leash up the two dogs and head outside for their morning walk. Along the way, I’d scoop up a dish of Egg Layer Pellets for the three girls in the coop. Like any good chicken, Friendly, Patches and Snitchy scratched and pecked through their food, kicking a few nuggets of goodness outside their coop. This is where Hoppy and crew come into play. They soon learned a bounty of goodness awaited them at the seams where the coop met the yard and came running every morning when I’d emerge from the house. I felt a little like a rock star on stage being rushed by her fans. In a weird way, it felt good. “Hi, friends,” I’d say. And, then, we started naming them.
Have you ever heard the boiling frog story? Any frog tossed into a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out. But put a frog in room temperature water that is slowly heated, and the frog will sit there and allow itself to be cooked to death.
Of course, the story is a metaphor for human behavior, right. Case in point, mine. Once I started tossing a few pellets outside the coop to the yard chickens, my fate was sealed. Then, our dog Lulu gave Hoppy her nickname when Lulu decided Hoppy needed a good shaking
. We tried to give Hoppy a leg up--I know, I know—with some extra handfuls as she recovered. But my story is also about chicken behavior. Or intelligence. Here’s the thing: Last summer, the last of our three rescued chicks died after some seven years in our lives. And those darn yard chickens, as we have taken to calling the regulars who roam our neighborhood, still rush me every morning and know my car when I pull into the driveway. I admit my mistaken interpretation of their excitement to see me—they’re really just looking for a handout, right—often gets me to dig into the bucket of leftover chicken pellets and toss a handful into the yard. I’ve even been known to scoop out the innards of a papaya and open a window or door to toss the skin their way. The yard chickens like bananas, too. And apple cores. Mango. But they don’t like mushrooms or onions.
They could be the best fed yard chickens on Kauai.
My friend Michele just started a business—BowWow Kaukau. She makes homemade dog food from scratch using locally sourced beef, pork, poultry and organic veggies. Some people—maybe even a neighbor or two--have suggested that I invite Michele to my yard the next time she makes a batch of dog food.