Every morning when I woke up, I would rush to the garage, where my two chickens were fussing and whining because I always got up later than they did. I would open their cage and grab one, kiss her head and repeat with the other one. With one chicken under each arm, I would set them free in the backyard. About 20 minutes later, while my brother and I ate breakfast and my mom chopped lettuce for the chickens, they would squat against the kitchen door. They purred to let us know that they were eager for their breakfast.
I loved my chickens as much as I loved my old dog, who we had to give away because of his unsolvable flea problem. They needed love and attention the same as any other pet.
In the middle of eighth grade, my brother’s pet fish died. My aunt, who had grown up in rural Taiwan, suggested chickens as an easy pet that needed only some feed and would give us eggs. The idea of having chickens sounded cool because no one else we knew had them. Also, farm animals aren’t too unusual in Walnut since 30 years ago it used to be all ranches.
We drove to the farm supply store. As soon as I saw the days-old balls of fuzz with twiggy legs, I wanted to take the whole box of baby chicks home with me. My mom did not feel the same way. We picked two. They cheeped softly in their brown paper bag on the car ride home.
We filled a cardboard box with shredded paper and put it in the living room. We changed the filling every day because they pooped in it all night. When they got bigger, we let them outside. However, we couldn’t resist bringing them in every couple of hours to play with them.
Each one got its own name
The more they sat on our hands or heads, or next to us as we watched TV and did homework, the more we started thinking of them as pets instead of little egg factories. When we grew close to them, we named one Little Black and the other Gracie, for her habit of sitting on top of the piano.
When they were only a few weeks old, Little Black was taken by a hawk. We bought two more chicks, Zebra and Ou Niao (Taiwanese slang for “pretty girl in black”). A few weeks later, we knew that Zebra had also been taken by a hawk when we found Gracie and Ou Niao hiding in a corner of the yard.
We still had not learned our lesson about how vulnerable our pets were. During summer we placed their box outside. One night, my mom woke up to their screaming. She grabbed a broom and whacked the raccoon that had grabbed Ou Niao. After chasing the raccoon away, my mom woke me up. I could barely see as I looked around for Ou Niao, and finally found her when I heard her cries. I helped set up their box in our living room. As my mom applied antiseptic on the bloody wound on Ou Niao’s butt, I stroked her and hugged Gracie. They were shaking, their pupils were wide, and their little hearts were racing. Right after, we got a rabbit hutch for them to sleep in. It was safer because it was raised from the ground. In the winter we wheeled it into the garage.
The first time one of our chickens laid an egg, my mom, brother and I argued over who could taste it first. My mom cracked it onto the frying pan and cooked it sunny-side up. She decided to split it among the three of us. The gooey orange yolk had more flavor than supermarket eggs. They laid eggs once a day almost every day so we always had plenty of fresh and delicious eggs for breakfast.
I had always expected them to be around. I was not prepared when Ou Niao suddenly died a few months ago. When I saw her, with her two feet in the air the way a dead cartoon chicken looks, I sobbed.
It’s hard to keep them safe
Then a few weeks ago, Gracie didn’t come up to the kitchen door in the morning like she usually did. After we found chicken feathers strewn over a corner of the yard, we realized that one of the coyotes in our neighborhood had eaten her. Although we had made sure that our gates were closed and our fences were too high for coyotes to jump over, we didn’t know that our neighbor, whose yard is connected to ours, hadn’t done the same. With all the predators in our area, we knew that this could happen, but we didn’t want to think about it because, like Ou Niao, she had become more than just a chicken to us.
Several years ago, when I had to give away my dog, I thought I would not be able to love another pet as much as I loved him. He was like a second younger brother. However, when I fed and held my chickens, it was not so different. I realized that they are just as great of pets as my dog was. It does not matter what kind of animal a pet is. What counts is the love and care that you give and your pet returns to you.