Meet the Tenders

An idea is hatched 

The notion of “Chicken Tenders” was born of necessity. One of the tenders, ahem, me, was instructed to develop a blog as part of an English graduate course. Abiding by the write what you know mantra repeated by creative writing instructors and authors alike, it became obvious what my topic should be.

Chickens have been part of our family’s daily life since acquiring a farmette in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, a decade ago. An ancient, vacant coop stood forlornly on the property, so family patriarch Grandpa Jere, a chicken tender in his youth, conspired with middle child Eiley Moon to fill the roost boxes.

Eiley framed
Eiley Moon the instigator holding the first Phyllis – a plucky Rhode Island Red

To the right is Eiley Moon, 15 when this photo was taken in our backyard. She is holding the legendary Phyllis, an alpha hen in our original brood. Phyllis was brash, bold and friendly. She has passed, but other Phyllis’ have followed. Pretty much any Rhode Island Red who enters the coop is dubbed Phyllis, although none has been as lively as she. Since Eiley left for college, we have been in a naming slump. If you’d like to help, take part in our naming contest. It’s time to retire the Phyllis moniker for, say, Myrtle. Or Ernestine.

Next up: Grandpa Jere. He and Eiley have a certain kinship. They both  prefer the company of animals to people, their names both begin with E (his given name is Edwin Jeremiah) and their birthdays are just one day apart. Grandpa is the head of operations here on Anderson Road. He arrives each morning at just around 8, often with a heap of peelings. He collects the eggs and provides fresh water. When the time is right he will rally the rest of us to clean the coop—an unpleasant but humane act. Chickens are messy but deserve a tidy home.

Logan is pictured above. The chickens are a novelty to him. He’ll help out when called on but otherwise is relatively disinterested.

There’s Papa Bear, a.k.a. Michael who, like his dad, is a skilled handler and compassionate caregiver.

We mustn’t forget Mackenzie, our oldest child. She lives in Portland, where urban chickens are commonplace. They live in vertical coops and have lots of rights. Here is Mackenzie holding a rooster for the first time.

And there’s me, VIcky. I’m no Jere, but I like to observe the hens, prepare salads  for them consisting of corn cobs, black beans and wilted arugula. I’ve rendered first aid, rescued a tormented hen and will wield a pitchfork when coop-cleaning day comes around. My observations, experiences and growing knowledge of chicken behavior are the inspiration for this blog.

And just what do we know? We know when hens tend to begin laying (six months). We know that chicken hawks live up to their name. We know by the condition of a chicken carcass just how it met its undignified end. We know that chickens have personalities and that, in our experience, Rhode Island Reds are the friendliest. We know the yolks of our cage free hens’ eggs are rich and that the talons of a rooster are mighty sharp.

I invite you to discover the praises and pitfalls of backyard chickens.

IMG_2175
Me, the well-intentioned tender, wearing a side pony, much to Eiley’s horror
Gramps framed
Grandpa Jere, the Grand Master, Most Tender, Coop Cleaner Extraordinaire
Chipmunk on head
Michael, son of Jere. No. that is not a top knot. It is a chipmunk.