(First Published in Edible Berkshires Publication)
My parents never told me that it was a bad idea to name chickens after boyfriends. Imagine that. So at twelve years old, it only seemed fitting for me to name the most handsome one- the “hottest chick,” if you will-after my very first crush and later, boyfriend, Jarrad. What a rooster that Jarrad was! He was of my favored Buff Orpington breed and he reminded me of a lion. He would shake his golden mane and let out his mighty roar (in this case, a crow) so I figured that any 12–year-old boy would have OBVIOUSLY felt proud to share a name with such a rooster! I know I would.
Now, it came to be that Jarrad the rooster kicked off a theme of sort. More and more chickens in my life I named after boyfriends. As I entered high school, a mixed breed rooster in the yard became Chris and a Silver Laced Wyandotte became Pat. Why did I do this? I really don’t know. Maybe I just liked the idea that I could get my “boyfriends” to come running to me with a simple “Here, chick’ chick’ chick’” or a toss of some grain.
But as the years progressed, the boyfriends didn’t last and neither did the chickens. A coon nabbed Chris shortly after I named him and one day Pat mysteriously disappeared. In Pat’s case, I suspected FOWL play. (Sorry I couldn’t help it!) But through the years, Jarrad crowed faithfully each morning. He would be the first to lead the girls out into the barn in the morning, and the last to make sure they all hopped in at night. By the time I was almost ready to graduate college, this feathered childhood sweetheart was still scratching around in the barnyard. By now, the wear and tear of the years had begun to show on his body. Raggedy feathers now hung from his neck where his glorious main once stood. Creases visibly lined the upper edges of his waddle. It got to the point where Jarrad was no longer just another rooster; he was a symbol I couldn’t shake.
Soon, I was driving home from college. After days of studying and night of partying, I would smile just to see that he was still out there in the barnyard, surrounded by his girls. Then, I would grab a piece of bread from the kitchen, stuff it in my pockets, and sneak it out to him before the other chickens could nab it.
The day that Jarrad finally died was a strange one. I had dealt with numerous animal deaths in my life, (after all, I grew up on a farm), but somehow this time was different. Something had ended. So on that August afternoon I did something that I hadn’t done since I was a little girl. I gathered up a bouquet of wildflowers from the back meadow, buried him underneath the old apple tree and gave myself a few minutes to say goodbye. Back then I’m not sure if I knew exactly what it was that I was saying goodbye to, but I know now. It was my childhood.
Chickens are funny animals. To some, they can simply mean pets, to others they stand for food, and still in other cases, they can be something else entirely. For me, Jarrad the rooster had a place all his own. And on that note: Here’s to the chickens, here’s to the boyfriends and here’s to the changes.
Happy chickening, everyone.