A few weeks ago Linda contacted me looking for hatching eggs. I’ve sold them for the last few years, but my rooster, Simon died in February and his replacement, Tarek, was untested. I told her I was happy to pass on a dozen eggs, but she’d be taking her chances about the hatch rate.
Three weeks later she let me know that her hatch was a success: 8 robust, healthy chicks. Bessie, an inexperienced broody hen, managed to break one egg early on and then two just as they were hatching: I’m not sure if she was clumsy, trying to be helpful, or panicked as she heard the chicks peeping. The last egg contained a full-term embryo that, for whatever reason, didn’t hatch. I always think it’s a miracle when any fully formed bird emerges out of something that, for most of us, would be breakfast.
Linda invited me to check on the new arrivals and get to know her a bit as a newcomer to Gabriola Island. First task upon my arrival was to watch out for one of her hens that had gone missing the night before. She feared that a predator might have got Ginny, but there were no feathers or signs of a struggle. I thought she could be broody and was hiding a nest of eggs.
We sat down for a chat and vowed to look for the recalcitrant hen before I left. Linda is a lifelong west coaster, having lived in various places throughout British Columbia. She married Doug, a veterinarian in the mid-90s, whose specialty was livestock. They moved several times for his work: to a cattle ranch and later, his own practice for farm animals.
Linda worked alongside him, doing the bookkeeping and learning through hands-on experience how to castrate horses, attend births and assist during C-sections. She remembers traveling to Lasqueti Island, accessible only by foot passenger ferry, to deal with a cow that had prolapsed. The owners paid their bill with goat pate, applejack wine and a used candle. The couple made annual trips, via small plane, to the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort for routine blood testing and vaccinations on their 35 horses. One time, they were called out to stitch up a horse that had been attacked by a bear.
She remembers with fondness the adventures they had and the places they lived including a 5-acre property by a creek. Over the years they had two daughters and a collection of different animals: dogs, cats, budgies, guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, cattle, and horses. Chickens figured somewhere in there, although she can’t remember much about them. Linda described Doug as a cowboy vet, complete with the requisite hat, a man who other women made ‘googly eyes’ over. Unfortunately he had a bit of a wandering eye himself and their marriage ended in divorce.
Linda relocated to a community in central Vancouver Island on two acres where she kept goats and horses. Like so many rural areas it was being encroached upon by development inching closer from the neighbouring small city. Faced with more noise, more tree cutting and building it seemed logical to move to a more rural, quieter place that was still close to her daughter and granddaughter.
She landed on Gabriola in the fall of 2019, buying a house that needed work despite being only 12 years old. The previous owner also left all his unwanted possessions and junk in the yard, which required 20 truckloads to remove. He also left a number of half-finished jobs: there were no kitchen cupboard doors and he never got around to installing the baseboards, tiles or grout. The opportunity to put her stamp on things was one of the reasons she chose the house. Judging by the amount of work she’s already done on the outside this house is becoming her own.
After just three months here, and not knowing anyone, Linda had double knee replacement surgery. When she said that, I raised my eyebrow, knowing that most folks opt for one knee at a time so they have at least one good leg to work with. Not her, someone whose determination made her bite the bullet and get it all over with in one shot. Covid hit right after that, so all her physiotherapy appointments were cancelled.
Eighteen months later, she’s got two scars to show for her surgeries, but is getting around okay. Linda’s dealing with osteoarthritis and has issues with her neck and shoulders. When I came down her driveway I noticed a small boat, a kayak and a glamping trailer and asked how she was going to manage those on her own. Apparently she does, although feels it the next day, which is the trade off for wanting to live a full life.
The household is rounded out by two senior Border Terriers who are both dealing with their own health issues. They were trained in agility and licensed with a parks department to chase unwanted Canada Geese. In their prime they were able to run alongside Linda when she was on horseback, but seem resigned to trotting around in the yard. As hunting dogs they might have killed the chickens when younger, but now view them as purveyors of a favourite snack, poop.
Her 10-year old granddaughter, Brooklyn, wanted but wasn’t able to get chickens, so talked her Grandma into getting some. The coop was already there, so it didn’t take much to fence off a corner for a few hens. The building was used by the previous owner to house meat birds. It’s split into three separate sections, each with it’s own door: storage, the main coop and the broody pen.
The flock consists of three Rhode Island Red and four Columbian Rock hens and of course, eight new Bitchin’ Chicks of mixed heritage – some, who will lay blue or green eggs. I already spotted two cockerels in the bunch and am working on Linda to keep one of them. She’s concerned about annoying the neighbours, but roosters play an integral role in the social order of the flock, not to mention they are gorgeous.
As promised, before I left we started the hunt for the missing hen. Right behind the coop is a large stump surrounded by shrubs so I looked there first. Then I spotted a large covered car shelter running parallel between the coop and the fence. It’s a storage area offering plenty of hiding places. In the very back corner sat a three foot high terracotta chiminea and wouldn’t you know it Ginny was sitting on a stash of eggs inside the base.
I don’t think Linda was prepared for another set of babies, but she was a good sport about letting her have a try at motherhood. Ideally we would have schlepped the chiminea into one of the side compartments of the coop, but given the distance and the condition of our middle-aged backs we opted for something simpler. We decided to leave the hen where she was until the next day when I could return with a dog crate and more fertilized eggs and then Linda could move her into a safer spot under cover of darkness. Unfortunately Ginny wasn’t impressed with being moved and abandoned the eggs after reluctantly sitting for just a few days.
Linda and I have emailed back and forth about our respective chicks, mine a bit younger than hers. We’re both excited to see how they turn out and are crossing our fingers, hoping to defy the odds, of ending up with all pullets. I’m sure by the next time I drop by her place she’ll have worked on a few new projects to make this place her home.