“The brown ones are friendly,” my friend Mary says. “The red ones, too. You can pet them.”
Pet a chicken? Truth is, I’d like to feel their feathers, and I’d like my 2-year-old grandson to get a chance to feel them, too, but what about those sharp beaks? Are chickens dangerous?
I wouldn’t be so ignorant if I had ever gone on Davis’ Tour de Cluck, where families bike from backyard chicken coop to backyard chicken coop around town and learn about chickens. Maybe next year.
For now, however, I need to respond to the petting suggestion. “We’ll try it,” I say.
Although Mary can’t come with us, she explains that we can easily walk right into her chicken coop and hang out with the chickens, as long as we don’t care too much about the state of our shoes.
So we go. As we open the door to the coop, I warn Dane that we have to be careful not to let the chickens out.
Two curious hens inspect the open door, but these chickens haven’t planned ahead. They don’t position themselves for escape, and I easily lock them in.
Once I’m inside, I count four birds in constant motion and two birds sitting in a nest box. While my grandson offers them a variety of “foods” he picks up from the ground — corn husks, shavings, bird poop — I try petting a bird to see if it will bite. I discover it’s hard to get a chicken to stop long enough for a pat. My grandson and I are safe.
Eventually, we become curious about eggs. We stand next to the little house where two birds are nesting and I slowly extend two fingers to reach underneath a hen.
“She has an egg!” I say to my grandson, and I hold him up so he can look. Then I remember that Mary said it was OK to take an egg. We’ll bring it home and cook it for lunch.
Moving my fingers under the hen again, I extract the egg. She makes no objection. A few seconds later, Dane and I exit the coop, making sure we have no tailgaters. We carry our egg to Dane’s stroller, where the little tray in front of his seat has a cup-type indentation.
“Put the egg there,” I say. The egg is light and delicate, quite pretty, with some unfamiliar markings on the shell. A real home-grown egg will be fun to eat, if we can get it home.
The problem is that Dane doesn’t know this egg well enough yet, and making its acquaintance involves lifting it repeatedly, cuddling it against his cheek, and balancing it between his fingers. He also wants to dangle it over the side of the stroller. Pretty soon I look like a crouched wrestler, pushing the stroller with one hand and leaning down with the other, ready to catch a falling egg.
We inch forward.
In the end, I hide the egg from Dane just to keep it safe, and after stops at a vegetable garden and a playground, we head home.
After we remove our shoes and wash our hands, I take a frying pan and bring it to the stove. I grab a stool for Dane. Carefully, I place the egg on the counter next to the pan.
“You can break it now,” I tell Dane.
He lifts it, quite gently, and brings it down on the counter.
It doesn’t break.
“A little harder,” I suggest.
Not a single crack appears.
“You,” Dane says, pushing the egg in my direction.
“OK.” I rap harder. No crack. And harder.
I stop and look at those funny markings on the shell again. Then I open the refrigerator and pick an egg out of my carton from Safeway. We crack and eat the store-bought product.
“Mary,” I write, as soon as I get to my computer. “Why was the chicken sitting on a fake egg?
“Chickens are not reflective or good planners,” she answers, confirming my observation about their ineptness at escape. “They need a clue and reassurance that the nesting box is a good place to lay an egg. We put one fake egg in each box.”
I go to the web to read up on fake eggs, which are used commonly, but the main thing I learn is that chicken owners call their birds “my girls.”
I guess my boy and his uninformed Grandma will need to return the fake egg to its rightful owner. We’ll do that tomorrow. Maybe we’ll pet one of the girls and if we find an egg, Dane and I will both turn it over in our hands, feel its weight in our palms, and hold it close to our eyes before we bring it home.
Dane is learning to be reflective and a good planner.
So is Grandma.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org