The Story of Pocahontas
We started farming in earnest in 2013. I was an Aggie by education from my years as a graduate student at UConn’s College of Agriculture and Animal Sciences. It took me until middle age to come back around to my love and to have my own first farm.
I and my husband had always wanted chickens and seemed to come to the same decision simultaneously about wanting to start our own flock for the healthy, fresh eggs they could provide. Since we don’t use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers on our land we knew that we had a perfect place to raise free-range, pastured chickens.
I, perhaps more than he, became enamored of the individuals in the flock. Each one had a name and a special place in my heart. Each bird lives out its life with us as part of the family, even long after they stop laying eggs.
One of my favorite breeds were the Polish hens. My trio, Dina Ross (White Crested Black Polish), Audrey Fandango (Gold Laced Polish) and Suzie Q. (Buff Polish) were all girls who just wanted to have fun. They would stay out in their protected run after dusk, partying around the water dish. They never listened to their rooster and did exactly what they wanted. They were comical and silly. Audrey especially was always good for a laugh.
Remember when you were a child and used to play ‘airplane’ by running around the lawn in S curves making believe that you could fly? That was Audrey. Always running with wings outstretched in S curves around the lawn. And then there was her laugh. She actually had a human-sounding laugh and found everything funny from my new dark glasses to other folks’ hats.
One day in spring I was watching her and thinking about how sad I would be when she and the others eventually passed. When I went to the feed store that week, of course they had spring chicks. So, I went into the chick trailer and peeked into each cage. There in one corner was a cage with some Polish chicks in it. Now, the trouble with spring chicks is that the rare breeds are almost always ‘Straight run” meaning unsexed, so you don’t know if they’re going to grow up to be hens or roosters. And you can’t buy just one – state laws require you to purchase two.
I knew that it might cause Ken stress if I came home with more chicks. But I justified the urge by picking out just two – a Gold Laced Polish and A White Polish. Surely, I thought, one would end up being a hen. And I had someone to help me disguise the new chicks – our best broody hen, Mummy Burd, who was already raising a clutch of 7 chicks. So, the feed store clerk put them in a small box and home I went.
As I drove up the driveway I could see that Ken had already arrived home from work. Terrified of being discovered with more chicks I quickly drove out back where the large chicken run was and parked. Gently stuffing one chick into each pocket of my vest I ran, breathless, the length of the run to Mummy Burd’s maternity ward at the other end. I zipped into the pen and placed the two chicks under her. She looked to see what the new little balls of fuzz under her were and then clucked softly and ‘tucked’ them in under her expanded breast.
The chicks grew and grew. Ken never noticed the addition and Mummy Burd integrated them seamlessly into her chick rearing program. One day a couple of months later it became clear that these two chicks were Polish and not like other chicks hatched from eggs I had given to Mummy Burd. Ken noticed and said, “Where did those come from? They look like Polish?” Not wanting to cause any controversy, I told a fib and said they must’ve hatched from eggs belonging to Audrey and Suzie.
The White Polish was indeed a hen, but the Gold Laced Polish turned into the most beautiful Polish rooster with beautiful amber eyes and an amazing headdress. His comb had bifurcated and looked like devils’ horns. His sense of humor topped even Audrey’s and he was also very opinionated, a trait I’d come to recognize in Polish chickens.
Once when I had my hair cut and styled, I appeared in the pen, and he immediately had something to say about it. The same thing happened when I showed up with a new hat. He was quite a drama queen, in his rooster way. He ran across the lawns with his headdress flying back from his head and reminded me so much of the Road Runner cartoon character. He needed an explorer’s name and so I named him Pocahontas. (I know, I know, Pocahontas was a woman, but I don’t think she would have minded having this gorgeous bird named after her.)
We created a poster for a line of vintage jewelry, with the tagline, “The Devil Made Me Do It” and Pocahontas’ image on the poster. And then one night he disappeared.
I heard birds squabbling and looked out the window but didn’t see anything, so I continued doing my work. About 45 minutes later, just around dusk, and later than usual because I had been distracted by work, I went to close the birds up in their run and put them in their houses for the night. Everyone was already back in the run. Suddenly, as I looked into the houses, I realized that I couldn’t find Pocahontas. I kept calling him, hoping that he was under one of the houses. I ran out into the yard, looking under the deck and into the flower beds to see if he was hiding. My heart sank. I couldn’t find him anywhere. Now it was dark.
The next morning, I looked around the yard and walked into the woods and beyond, hoping that I would find some clues. The only thing I could ever find were a couple of feathers between the back door of the house and the run and then a few stray ones – near the deck and past that heading out towards the woods. But these could have fallen naturally. I was never sure.
It’s strange to say that you love a chicken, but it’s true, you can. Just like you love your dog or your cat. He was such a joyful soul. I used to look out the window while I was doing dishes and I would see his crazy antics, running across the lawn just like the Roadrunner, headdress flying back in the wind. He was supposed to be my backup plan – in case anything ever happened to Audrey.
The part that hurts the most is that I didn’t get there in time to save him from whatever happened. Did It happen near the house when I heard the squabbling and assumed it was just the birds having an argument? Did he wander into the woods and get grabbed by something? I guess I’ll never know.