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Chickens have come home to roost 

Everybody's talking about the new chicks in town—the old chickens, mostly.

The new chickens arrived at their coop on a beautiful Carolina evening in July. That's our tried-and-true method of introducing new chickens to the flock. Bring them home at twilight so they can get a good night's sleep. When the sun rises and they wake up, "Whoa, what's for breakfast?" They spent that first day clucking and digging, digging and clucking. Quite a scene.

The older chickens had stopped laying eggs and seemed less interested in greens than ever. So while they chilled in a nearby shed, six 4-month-old biddies explored their new home. I waited a few days before mixing the broods. That first weekend there was a lot of conversation, about who roosts where, who eats first, whose water tastes best, you know, down-to-earth chicken talk.

One rule I've learned, you can't fight the pecking order. But they have plenty of space, some sunny, some shady. The new chickens hop down from their roost earlier and stay up a half hour later than the old chickens.

In my old truck, my daughter and I had made the drive north to Creedmoor to gather our new girls. We stopped and had strip mall Chinese food. Turned out to be fantastic, a good omen. Even in the familiar land of faded, dependable pick-up trucks, I wondered if anyone else could possibly be on the same mission as we were. Going and coming was so much fun.

A backyard farmer named Pam had raised these chickens. They ran to her when we entered her well-lit coop. Before handing them over, she held each one in her arms and petted them, calming them down. She whispered to them in a soothing voice.

"They're a cross between Rhode Island Reds and White Rocks. I chose them for their large, hard, brown shells," she explained. Before letting them go, she added, looking me in the eye, "You've done this before? You know what you're doing, right?" We talked our own chicken/ feed and garden/ drought talk for a few minutes, and then she handed them over. I took back roads most the way home, slowing on the turns. Lots of back seat conversation, I think the leftover Chinese was making them excited.

The new chickens and the old chickens are all the same size now. Everyone goes nuts over corn cobs and old tomatoes. They're trying to figure out what to do with recently harvested sunflower "faces." The new chickens love watermelon rinds and grass clippings. They quickly figured out where the fresh water was and that our most curious Retriever could not get into the coop. (I even added a bungie cord to the door so I could sleep better, too.)

Old Grey Chicken still rules the roost; she invented that cliché. But the new chickens vie for her spot on the cedar ledge by the window, looking out toward the house and the promise of fresh compost.

The new chickens will be 22 weeks old this weekend. You know what that means?

Fresh eggs with large, hard, brown shells.

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