by Amanda Janquart
This story begins long before I arrived at All Seasons, yet it intertwined with my life. Our school’s original Miss Chick was hatched in an incubator in my colleague’s classroom in 2001. Natalie’s class was run with an infectious energy and she was the perfect person to introduce young children to the joys of having a pet. Many children fell hard for Miss Chick as she didn’t disappoint with her funny antics. When Natalie left her teaching position, Miss Chick went into retirement. When All Seasons opened in 2009, Natalie knew it would be an ideal place for her beloved chicken to live out her golden years. And years it was, for Miss Chick lived through 2013 – she was 12 1/2!
There are spaces in the heart that only animals can fill, and her death left a hole at All Seasons. The school was ready to welcome new chicks but didn’t know where to begin. Amy went on a fact-finding mission to determine which breed would be best. Speaking with resident Kenny Fritz, a former farmer, she gleaned insightful information from someone who had raised chickens. Two kinds stood out as docile breeds and egg layers; Buff Orpingtons and Cochins. That’s how the new Miss Chick (the second) and Fritzie (named after Grandpa Kenny) came to join us.
They were raised in the classroom from chicks with children participating in their care. Steve, the building maintenance man, built them an tall indoor kennel, and Amy’s dad, Dave, built nesting boxes. Everyone yelped with joy when they laid their first eggs. The pair joined us on the playground, and the residents watched them through their windows. Robyn, a cook at Inver Glen, treated the chicks to choice pieces of watermelon. When a hawk took Miss Chick, the devastation spread beyond the preschool walls; the entire Inver Glen community came together to support each other.
After the hawk took Miss Chick we were fearful to let Fritzie roam the playground, but we knew she needed that freedom. Teachers and children kept a close eye on her when they brought her outside. When the school year ended, Fritzie was invited to join my flock of chickens at home for ‘chicken summer camp.’ She could forage in ways one can only do with the protection of a flock. Best of all, she would bring a friend from camp back to All Seasons in the fall! After a rocky introduction to my flock, Fritzie found her place on the outskirts of the group.
My own kids favored Fritzie, and often toted her around on their adventures in the woods or singled her out as needing a bath. She grew fat and fluffy. A few times she disappeared for more than a day and we’d go searching. She was so tricky, sneaking into the massive dark barn and staying quiet so we couldn’t find her. She was quick to make nesting spots and was loathe to leave her eggs, but I needed to find her eggs before they got rotten.
The first day of school, just before Fritzie was to return to the preschool, I wanted one more chance to find her eggs so planned to follow her. My husband hid in the barn. As we opened the coop, I called out to him, “Ready? Here she comes!” It turned out to be one of the few days she didn’t head straight to the barn. We all went off to our first day of school, leaving Fritzie pecking under the oaks with the others. That evening when she didn’t come back we didn’t worry, knowing she had pulled this trick before. But a week went by, then another. We assumed the worst. We answered children’s questions with honesty. “We don’t know where she is.”
Without Fritzie, her summer pal was still expected back at All Seasons. Mary fit the bill. Another outsider, Mary had overcome extreme sickness as a chick. From the beginning, it was apparent something was not right. She would often miss her food, pecking air instead. We assumed she was blind, which led to her name, Mary Ingalls. My children hand-fed her scrambled eggs and dipped her beak in water. Worrying that she would be picked on, she had her own sleeping quarters. As she got older, she stayed close to the coop, and welcomed human companionship. While there was some concern about Mary joining All Seasons (Did we want a chicken that might not have a good chance of survival? Could we handle another loss?) it made sense. She would become a part of a community that values all abilities.
Mary’s gentle demeanor has been a gift to our community; she has converted some seniors with poultry fears and has allowed children to stroke her feathers, patiently standing still. She is easy to catch and is comfortable sun bathing as children dig in the sand near her. Robyn from the kitchen again brings chicken treats down and she bought her a low perch to make it easier for Mary to roost. Mary is filling a need.
Wanting to know more about Mary’s vision, we invited vet techs from Inver Grove Animal Hospital to visit. We learned that Mary is indeed blind in at least one eye, and most likely blind in the other (she didn’t blink or flinch when a finger was flicked). The vet techs helped the children understand what it might be like to not see, having them close their eyes and listen They made it clear that it is OK to be blind. Mary can sense even small movements in the air around her and her hearing is particularly sharp. Talking to Mary before stroking her will avoid startling her. The techs showed us how to pet her from neck to tail, avoiding her vulnerable belly area. Chickens make about thirty different sounds – she actually talks to us. Her gentle coo means she is happy.
Our visitors also shared more about chickens:
– Their first eggs (laid between 4-8 months) are much smaller than eggs laid by adults.
– They eat rocks, store them in their crops and use them like we use teeth, to grind up food.
– Their favorite color appears to be red.
– Their combs turns from pink to bright red when they lay an egg.
– We should avoid giving Mary salty foods, and stick to healthy fruits and vegetables.
Are you still with me because HERE IS THE TWIST!
Right in the middle of writing this blog post, I kid you not, Fritzie came back!! My husband heard a commotion in the garage – it was a chicken mob! Under the pile was an orange chicken that looked like Fritzie! In a state of shock, he ran inside calling for me. I ran out to see. We could see Pumpkin (our other orange chicken), but not Fritzie. “I swear she was just here.” Searching the garage, we found her tucked into a cobwebbed corner, sitting stock-still. She had stayed away almost a month and had become a stranger, a threat to the flock, so they pecked her. She was stinky, skinny, and scared. We kept her isolated in the upper coop for the night. My daughter, Mimi, who has a gift with animals, gave Fritzie a spa treatment. It may take Fritzie a while to trust people. Again, All Seasons will be the perfect place for her to receive gentle care, in a community that understands how to meet each other’s needs. We have not finished our crazy chicken history yet.
WELCOME MARY, AND WELCOME BACK FRITZIE!