I love a good swap meet, that place where people gather to buy, sell and trade stuff, including animals.
I’m especially fond of seeing classic barnyard chickens like a Rhode Island Red or a black-and-white speckled Plymouth Rock, along with exotic ones like a fluffy Silkie or a Polish with its funky head feathers. It’s a zoo of animals with a bit of flea market flair, considering all the selling of second-hand clothes and housewares.
Too bad a swap meet isn’t in my future any time soon. In response to recent confirmations of avian flu in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has suspended all poultry swaps and meets, exhibitions, shows and sales at festivals, flea markets or auctions in the state.
A swap meet happens to be how my family got its start as urban chicken farmers.
It was a number of years ago when my husband, Joe, and our son, Anton, awoke in the wee hours on a spring Saturday morning for a swap meet in the small town of Waterloo, Illinois. Our urban farmer friend Justin had told us that if we wanted to nab good chicks, we need to get there at the outset.
Really? We weren’t of a picky chicken mindset. We didn’t know about breeds. All we wanted was a few chickens to give us fresh eggs in the morning.
Joe and Anton returned that afternoon with a pair of 2-week-old chickens in tow. Anton named them Perrault and Francois, which prompted a discussion about these being females with non-chick names, but the gent names stuck. I got busy making a semblance of a home for them in our basement. I used phrases like “put them to bed.” We cooed over their high-pitched cheeping. It took a hot second for them to become our pets.
Chickens and their byproducts go hand-in-hand this time of year. Raise your hand if you bought a package of Paas and dyed hard-boiled Easter eggs with the kiddos.
I don’t know anyone who has ever received a baby chick or bunny on Easter, but I hear that this happens. Are the recipients of these baby animals ready for what it means to care for new life?
New life is real. It is living, breathing. It needs attention, even when we don’t feel like it.
At one point, we had four chickens that had all reached the laying stage, yet we could not find their eggs. An egg hunt in the truest sense ensued. Finally, we discovered the mother lode under the deck. I felt so proud of them (yay, you are healthy and laying!) – and then set to work over the course of many weeks to train them to lay eggs in the coop.
During the winter, we rigged up lights in the roost to keep them from freezing. Pouring hot water over the frozen water in the feeder became another daily chore.
Then there was that time Beardy turned broody. It took library reference books and chats with chicken farmers and even sending Beardy to stay for a few weeks with the functional flock of another city chicken farming family to get the bird out of her foul mood and back on the egg-laying train.
When a couple of our chickens were killed by opossums, I cried. After all, I had tended to them morning, noon and night since their first week of life.
Raising chickens is similar to raising children. They both take a lot of work. I am a momma of two living, breathing beings who are long out of the cradle. Their needs are no longer that of milk, diaper change and nap. Rather, we have graduated to the head-banging world of filing for federal student aid. To scheduling visits to prospective colleges. To copyediting their resumes for summer jobs and internships. The long-term goal: that they successfully contribute to society and enjoy fruitful lives. The short-term goal: that they take up residence somewhere other than our basement after college graduation.
So while my husband and I are no longer taking care of spanking-new life, parenting never stops. The issues just shift as the kids grow older.
Oh, but part of me misses tending to babies. I still sway when I stand for long periods of time, something I did when I had a little person attached to my hip. And it’s hard to beat the easy happiness that comes from taking a kid to the park and pushing him on a swing. And later, swinging next to him to see who can swing the highest.
A dear colleague at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is about to give birth to her firstborn child. She’s Jewish, so the ritual of Easter egg hunts isn’t part of her upbringing, but she understands the giddiness of watching a toddler pick up a bright plastic egg with wonderment. Taking pride in the triumphs of our children transcends religious affiliation.
Easter is about new life. So on this Easter, I think of Yvonne, of her new baby and the zillions of exciting firsts that come with starting a family.
I also think of anyone who parents. It’s a joy, even if it’s not an easy job – like the day after Easter, when you have to figure out how to coerce the kids to eat all those leftover hard-boiled eggs. Sorry. Your problem, not mine. We’ve graduated from that.