Researching Chickens? Why Not?

You don't know what you don't know until you try to write about it. Chickens, for example.
The fourth Sleuth Sisters has chickens, and though I grew up with them, I guess I wasn't really paying attention. We always had chickens because, like the punch line in the old joke, we needed the eggs. My grandmother was the expert, and now that I need details about raising chickens, she's not here to help. I've been reading online about feed, temperature, water, and safety measures, which brought back some childhood events, like playing catch with eggs--that almost never ends well.

My most memorable chicken experience was terrifying. My little sister was probably three years old, and we were playing in the yard. The rooster was a mean sort, and he attacked my sister, knocking her down. I recall turning to see her flat on her back in the mud while the rooster stood on her chest. Dad was nearby, and he shooed the bird away and hurried to comfort my sister, who was sobbing. There were two very distinct chicken footprints on her white blouse.

She was fine but the rooster was not. He was Sunday dinner.

Most of the time it wasn't like that, of course. The chickens were a fact of life, and we co-existed. We dodged their leavings when we crossed the yard, hunted for their eggs when they tried to hide them, and chased their babies so we could cuddle them. Grandma would call the flock to her with an apron-full of grain, "Here, chick, chick, chick!" and they'd come running. Only she could take the eggs right out from under a hen, but when she did they were still warm. I remember the earthy smell of the coop, the way I had to scrunch down to enter it, and the low protests of the hens, no more than murmurs of discontent at my presence. They taught me things I didn't know I was learning. (I taught them nothing in return, but it's hard to teach a chicken much.)

One of the things I enjoy about writing the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries is going back in time to those memories. We didn't know then how lucky we were to live where we lived and the way we lived. I wish more of today's kids could experience that lifestyle.


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