I’ve been calling Saint George frequently this past week, pestering him for updates and news. A dream I’ve been harbouring since I crossed the Mississippi/Tennessee border more than 2 years ago is manifesting on a table in the old Log Cabin room at the Old Dickens’ Place in Big Creek and I’m missing all the action. Saint George is being remarkably patient with all my questions: “Anything happening? Have they hatched yet? How many? Can you send pictures? Please?”
All chickens are not created equal. Different breeds have different purposes, thrive in different environments, have their own unique look and personalities. Growing up my sister always had Rhode Island Reds; plump reddish brown hens that laid nice brown eggs on a fairly regular basis. They were hardy, pleasant enough, difficult to tell apart – and lived with an incredibly evil rooster named Pavarotti. The chicken coop was between the house and the barn and I had to carry a dressage whip to get past Pavarotti every time I went to feed the horses. I Hated that rooster. Then one day I was on the way out to the barn with our 6 year old neighbor to give her a riding lesson. Pavarotti got past me, flew at her chest, knocked her down and went for her face. I kicked him away and she scrambled to her feet, but enough was enough. Dad sharpened the big butcher knife. We all stood on the porch, watching as he walked towards the chicken coop, knife in hand. I was wondering how he’d catch the rooster but it turned out he didn’t need to. Pavarotti flew at his face, Dad swung with the knife in self-defence and suddenly the rooster’s head was flying one way while his body flew another. (We all cheered from the porch!)
After that I really didn’t think too much about getting chickens of my own. I love eggs, especially fresh eggs, but I’ve led a rambling sort of life and chickens aren’t the sort of creature one travels with. Of course then I rode through Big Creek, found the house, and by the time I’d reached the northern border of Mississippi I was thinking pretty hard about settling down, planting a garden, maybe even getting a dog. That was where I encountered my first French Marans Egg. The colour of cocoa with darker speckles, the yolk was rich gold and thick as caramel; I was convinced it was the best egg I’d ever eaten. James Bond apparently shares my opinion. I went to meet the woman who had the chickens that laid these glorious eggs. The hens were plump and black with copper neck feathers, the rooster was majestic and not at all aggressive. They were Black Copper French Marans – and I was hooked.
I researched Heirloom varieties of chickens, breeds that were endangered or currently out of fashion. I considered Australorps and Dominiques, Dorkings and Orpingtons, but my heart was with the French Marans. I wanted a multi-purpose breed; good layers that were also tasty meat birds. Any of the above breeds would probably trump the Marans, but despite my best research my mind was already made up. So last spring I started trolling Craigslist. Very occasionally I’d see something, but it was always too far away and too expensive. By this spring I was immersed in too may other things and finding Marans had been pushed off onto a back burner somewhere.
Unbeknownst to me, Saint George hadn’t forgotten my desire for these particular birds. At the appropriate season he started quietly looking for eggs. And an incubator. And here’s where the story gets good. Because when he drove over to pick up a dozen Black Copper French Marans eggs, at a very fair price, practically next door in Vardaman, who did he meet? The local source for French Marans turned out to be Frances Simmons, who has been following Free Range Rodeo via facebook since I rode through Mississippi two years ago. How amazing is that!?! And now, thanks to Frances and Saint George, there are 11 recently hatched balls of fluff and another dozen or so due to hatch out on my birthday and by the time I see them they’ll be feathered out and looking like chickens! Happy Day!