The Roving Rototiller

Monday, November 29, 2010

Profile photo

I've added a profile photo.  This is Zoe, one of the hens from our very first flock.  A Speckled Sussex, Zoe arrived as a Murray McMurray hatchery chick and grew into one of the most personable birds I have ever met.  Go out to the barn with a bucket, and Zoe would be one of the first to arrive, cocking her head commandingly and expecting first shot at whatever was in it.  Sit down for a moment, and Zoe would be up in your lap, muddy feet and all.  If you didn't have a bucket and weren't sitting down, she was apt to fire off a strong peck at your boot or yank on your pants leg, simply to make sure that she got her "Hi, Zoe" for the day.  But she had a fine sense of what was safe to peck and what wasn't:  unlike her husband Conrad, Zoe never bit or snatched us, just our clothing.

In our old coop, Zoe and Conrad the Terrible held court in their own private room, along with an Easter Egger hen named Tiger.  Conrad had an awful temper towards people, but he treated Zoe like a queen.  Tiger . . . well, Tiger was the nanny.  Despite being of a "broody breed,"  Zoe never sat a clutch in her life.  Instead, the summer that Tiger went broody, Zoe proceeded to take full advantage of the situation.  Daily she would scramble into the nest box, squashing poor Tiger against the back wall while she laid her egg, then departing without a backward glance.  Tiger faithfully sat the six eggs she was given, and in due time hatched out two lovely Sussex chicks.  (Three of the remaining eggs were fertile and hatched under our broody peahen, but that's another story.)  Tiger raised her chicks with total devotion, even defending them from a pack of marauding dogs that broke into the yard one night.  We lost many, many birds that night, but not Tiger, Conrad, Zoe, or the chicks.  Chalk one up for maternal instincts, and for a big crabby rooster.

The chicks grew up into two hens, whom we named Dot and Dash.  Although Zoe wouldn't have a thing to do with them as chicks, when they got their spotted adult feathers, she proved the old adage about "birds of a feather" and began hanging out with them.  They made quite the trio, swanning about the yard in their brilliant plumage, always the first out of the coop in the morning and last in at night, foraging in the yard far more actively than the other birds.  Dot and Dash quickly learned that the rest of the flock couldn't tell them from their high-ranking mother, and worked their way up the social ladder.  Meanwhile their father Conrad developed arthritis and passed away during a hot summer at the depressingly young age of three.

Zoe made it to six, having survived dogs, coccidia, roundworms, fowlpox, and a nearly fatal anemia before succumbing to what was likely cancer.  Six is not nearly a long enough life for such a great personality as hers, but the same could be said for a lot of beloved pets.  She has managed to cement the Speckled Sussex firmly in first place on my list of heritage breeds, and one of these days when we have a bigger barn I'd like to get a whole bunch of Sussex and see about doing my part to maintain the breed.  Meanwhile, Dot and Dash are going strong at four years old, and I still have neighbors ask if they can have eggs from "those neat spotted hens."  Zoe will get her little memorial by serving as my profile photo.  I took this picture while she sat on my knee, trying to figure out what the camera was. 

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