From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Since last time I wrote about our two chickens, “Light Meat” and “Dark Meat,” much has happened. We learned a lot about chickens. Free-range chickens are in vogue, but they tear into your grass, plants, and shrubs, to find their favorite morsels. And according to their daily schedule, by mid-afternoon, they’re ready for their dirt bath. It means they burrow into the ground to cool off in the soil and dust themselves clear of bugs and parasites. One day we couldn’t find them anywhere in the yard until we notice their heads sticking out of the flower boxes where they created a veritable sitz-bath for themselves. Thankfully, they agreed to our living arrangements: we provide food, shelter, and a sitz-bath, and they provide one egg each, per day.
Then it happened. Careful as we were, a few months ago, I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of chickens shrieking. I looked through the window to see one of the chickens standing outside its coop and wondered what on earth happened. I woke up Lisa and we quickly ran downstairs. The upper door of the coop where the chickens rested on their roost was open. I took hold of Dark Meat, the chicken that found its way outside the coop, and put her directly inside, and closed the door behind her. But the shrieking began again. Looking inside the laying boxes, I found the source of the shrieking — a possum! As fast as I could, I retrieved the chicken that I had hastily and mistakenly put back into the coop. Finally, the possum ran off, and we spent an hour cleaning the coop and calming the chickens. But the real problem was Light Meat, which had sustained an injury from the possum. For weeks, Lisa tended to Light Meat and helped it heal with salve and special care. Its leg never healed perfectly but it hopped along rather well. We began to call her “Hop-a-Long” instead of Light Meat. It fit her better.
Nature is resilient, but just this past week, the mid-night alarm woke me up, again. It was the chickens shrieking. Could it be? I looked out the window and there was the possum. This time I would be too late. Without waking Lisa, I ran downstairs, grabbed a broom and flashlight, and chased the possum out of the area. But lying on the ground was Hop-a-Long, mortally wounded, lifeless. Her partner, Dark Meat, stood by her clucking a bit, not with pride but sadness. It was a quiet sound. I found a bag and put the lifeless chicken in it. I cleaned the area, picked up Dark Meat and comforted her, and put her back in the coop, safe and secured.
In the morning, I told Lisa what happened. She was sad and disappointed. We agreed that Hop-a-Long had more time to live and hop and cluck because of Lisa’s tender care. We talked about nature’s ways and how to care for Dark Meat, either alone or in a new home with other chickens. Today, Dark Meat is doing well but we also learned that hens, being social animals who live according to a pecking order, shouldn’t be alone. We’ll do our best to find her a new home.
The days of chickens at the Lyon house are nearing an end. It was an interesting pandemic experience that Lisa always wanted to try, and I was an (un)willing partner. What have we learned about chickens in Bellaire? At our Shabbat table this week, we’ll talk about it and honor Hop-a-Long, “possum-ously.” Too soon?
Whatever you have living in your backyard or around the house, treat your animals well, show them tender care, and regard them as one of God’s creative acts.