The chickens of Blackwater Farm were not born on the farm. In fact, they were not even born in the same state—they were hatched in Iowa and shipped through the United States Postal Service. One spring Wednesday afternoon, Ben, Nathaniel and Mommy were sitting home when the phone rang. “Um, hi. This is the Postal Service. We have a delivery that you need to come pick up. It says it’s ‘live birds.’ What’s that about?” “It’s my chickens!” Mommy squealed joyfully. “We’ll be right there!”
So, Ben, Nathaniel and Mommy clamored into the car and drove down the street to the Post Office. “You got chickens in the mail? That’s a first for me.” said the seasoned, elderly man behind the counter.
“We’ve been waiting for these young ladies for a few weeks, now. I’m very excited!” Mommy said as she signed for them.
Two long, cardboard boxes with small holes in the sides were handed over the counter and little uncertain clucking noises could be heard from within. Not knowing what to expect, or how they would react to having the boxes opened, the family decided to wait till they got home to look inside. The boxes were carefully placed in the back of the van, and Mommy drove back down the road toward home. Ben, Nathaniel and Mommy could barely contain their curiosity, excitement and joy at receiving these new members of their household.
When they pulled into the driveway, they took the boxes straight back to the coop which was all prepared and waiting for its tenants to arrive. Mommy filled the feeder up with pellets, their drinking fountain up with water and opened the first box. It contained two lovely young Rhode Island Reds. They opened the second box. It contained three very different young ladies: a Buff Orpington, a Black Ostrolorpe and a Barred Rock. Mommy named the Reds right away—Donna Noble and Amelia Pond—after red-headed companions of The Doctor from the TV show Doctor Who. She named the Ostrolorpe Martha Jones after another companion of The Doctor. Ben and Nathaniel were each allowed to name one of the other two. Ben gave Butterscotch her name because her color is just like the candy.
And that left the Barred Rock. When we pulled her out of the box, she was breathing a snot bubble from her beak. “Gross! That’s like a cartoon snot bubble! Her name will be Cartoon.” said Nathaniel.
But, this would be the last time Cartoon would be the butt of a joke. She is a serious chicken with big plans. Her name may suggest frivolity, but she is all business.
The personality of each chicken was soon understood, and a pecking order established rather quickly. Cartoon saw herself as a sort of General. While Donna made sure that no one got out of line, Cartoon would eventually direct the movement of the flock and what activities they would do as a group.
Because there were lots of dangerous animals in the woods that surrounded the yard, Mommy was not immediately keen on letting the chickens out of the coop. They needed to get acclimated to their new surroundings, and a safe way of letting them out of the coop needed to be devised. So, for the first weeks, Mommy would go and visit with the chickens inside the coop. She bought a small, green stool to sit on and would spend a bit of time each day with them so they could all get used to her and learn to trust her.
Each day, when Mommy sat on the stool, Cartoon would hop up on her lap and peck at anything shiny on her clothing. She would try to eat Mommy’s hair, jumping up on her shoulder and sometimes wanting to sit on her back. She always wound back down on her lap, where she made her throne to survey her subjects (the other chickens), and muse about what sort of a leader she would be. She would stand up and talk to Mommy’s face, barking orders and commands at her—complaining about their lack of freedom and wanting to see what was beyond the coop, telling of animals whose curiosity brought them close to the coop at night to see if there was anything in there to eat and wanting to know what Mommy planned to do about it. Of course, Mommy just thought she was clucking and snuggling, so she didn’t respond.
When the girls were finally allowed out of the coop, the big wide door on the front of was propped open and Mommy moved to the side. Cartoon was the first to emerge. She hopped up on the step to the outside, looked around and jumped out. She yelled to the others, “Come on, girls! Move out!” Donna came next, then Amy, Butterscotch and lastly and timidly, Martha. “I don’t know about this…” whispered Martha to herself. She quietly sang a little song to keep her spirits up.
Cartoon led the girls into the garden and found the compost pile almost right away. “We’ve struck gold!!!” she shouted. “Come and see what I have found!” The others came waddling over while Cartoon proudly stood on top of the pile. “Behold! Snacks…” she said solemnly.
The sisters began to scratch and dig through the pile finding all kinds of fruit and veggie scraps. “Nice job, Cartoon!” said Amy. “This is awesome!”
Mommy watched on by the gate, leaning on the metal can that the chicken food was kept in. Cartoon came over to give her more directions and commands and recommendations about what should be kept stocked in the compost pile.
“Hey, cutie.” Mommy said. “Want some oats?” And Mommy took a canister of oats from the food can and sprinkled some on the ground.
“Hmmm….what’s this?” Cartoon pondered. She nibbled a few and was amazed at her new discovery. “Ladies! Assemble!” she yelled to her sisters. Realizing that Cartoon had a knack for finding the best snacks, they all waddled over—this time faster than the last. “These are oats.” she said with authoritative knowing (really only having discovered them seconds before). “Oh! Oats!” they said, “These are the best!”
Cartoon was a very quick study. She realized that where Mommy was, snacks almost always were, too. Cartoon came to recognize the sound that the back door made—the door that Mommy brought snacks out of. Wherever she was, if she heard that door, Cartoon would check to see if it was, in fact, Mommy coming out of the house; and if it was, she would mobilize the flock and get to her as soon as they could. They would all follow Mommy because, the fact that she didn’t always come out of the house with snacks, didn’t mean there weren’t going to be some.
Not every smart chicken with excellent leadership skills and a well-developed sense of strategy is a chicken with good moral values. Cartoon saw her mission as providing her platoon with the best food and entertainment—regardless of how it had to be gotten.
In the early summer, Cartoon noticed that when Mommy went near the path by the grapevines, she often came back with some purple and red slightly tart, juicy berries. She stood right behind Mommy’s feet one day to investigate. Mommy gave her one of the berries and said, “Here, Cartoon. Try a raspberry.” Cartoon said to herself, “Yes, these are good. I will call my sisters.”
The next thing Mommy knew, she was surrounded by her little flock. They looked hopeful, and Cartoon looked slightly menacing and thoughtful. As she always did, Mommy shared the fruit with the girls. Everyone was happy. Except, apparently, Cartoon. She felt that a better cut of the produce was due to her company, and began to plot for tomorrow.
The next day, toward the middle of afternoon, after the sun had a chance to ripen more raspberries (sometimes they would go from almost ripe to perfectly ripe within a matter of hours), Mommy headed out toward the raspberry patch near the grapevines. Cartoon and the girls joined her almost immediately. Mommy didn’t have a bucket with her, thinking she’d only get a small amount of berries, and so she collected them in her hands. Prepared to share, like always, Mommy went to choose a few for her little darlings when Cartoon jumped up and knocked Mommy’s hand—the berries went tumbling and scattered among the vines and grass. The girls, on Cartoon’s command, came bolting in, pecking wildly to snatch up as many berries as they could before Mommy had a chance to react.
Mommy stood there in shock. She just got mugged by a chicken. She looked at the girls, wondering what had come over them to not wait for the sharing that would have ensued. From that point on, Mommy always made sure that she had a container with her to keep the berries safe from the marauding beak of Cartoon. And Cartoon always made sure that she joined Mommy on all of her raspberry picking missions. Since she couldn’t knock them out of her hand anymore, Cartoon tried standing close behind Mommy’s feet to try and trip her so that she would drop the bucket.
But, even the smartest chicken is no match for a smarter Mommy…