Joyce Bupp, farm wife

Bock, bock, bock, bock, booooockk. Bock, bock, bock, bock, booooccoockk.

For a moment or two, the soft sounds didn’t register in my brain. Emptying a water bowl at one of the outside calf pens early one morning last week, my focus was on sliding the bowl back into its holding spot while avoiding the calf trying to gnaw on my wrist.

Huh? There it was again: bock, bock, bock, bock, booooccoock.

I glanced up and there, slightly above my head on the pen divider, sat three hens. We don’t have any hens. We have only roosters, donated a couple of years ago by a friend who knew the boys in the flock would not contribute anything to the egg-laying output while constantly squabbling with each other.

About a week earlier, though, I’d learned that a neighbor intended to sell a few of his chickens. And I’d mentioned that I’d like to get a couple of the hens, just for company for the roosters. We like chickens and enjoy watching them scratching around the old barn and hanging out with the guineas. Besides, they eat a lot of insect pests and probably some weed seeds. At least they do when they’re not at my feet, begging for a handful of corn, as the spoiled, tame roosters are prone to do. Maybe hens would even gift us a few eggs.

Unbeknownst to me, the trio of hens had been delivered the evening before, and apparently set on the pen divider to roost. At my feet, the tamest rooster strutted around, obviously having figured out that there were some new chickens on the block and he intended to claim first dibs on establishing friendships.

The hens appeared less interested in making his acquaintance and remained tight on their overnight perch. After I scattered a handful of corn chop on the ground, the rooster began pecking at breakfast and, momentarily, one of the hens, a pretty Rhode Island Red that matched his deep mahogany coloring, hopped down to dine.

When she spotted a bowl of water on the ground just outside the pens, kept there for the benefit of both roosters and the cats, her attention was diverted to getting a drink. Meanwhile, her two perch-partners sat tight, clucking unhappy chicken sounds. When the rooster came a little too close, the bravest hen soon flew back up to the pen divider. This was all too unfamiliar, and thus too threatening, territory for the newcomers.

I closed off the front of an empty pen just below where the three hens were perched, threw in a couple of handfuls of corn chop and added a bowl of fresh water. When they felt a bit more comfortable, they could hop down there, eat, drink and perhaps begin to feel more at home. At dark, if they had not moved, they would be relocated to the same area of the old bank barn where the roosters settle overnight.

That’s one of the many things I have always loved about living on a farm: you never know what surprise you might find at any given time.

Just days before, I’d opened the chute from the overhead bin to feed chop to the heifers, only to find that the bin was empty and a bat (yes, a bat!) had slid down with the tiny bit of remaining feed. Before I could snag it to release it back outside, it disappeared, apparently flying back up the now-open chute. I’ve come face-to-face with mice there on numerous occasions, and even a rat or two over the years, but never before found a bat in the chute.

And, just hours before being surprised by the hens, I’d strolled into the upper floor of the old bank barn, milk and catfood in hand for the barn cats, only to spot a cow standing there in the near-empty haymow. One glance at the plastic marker-bands on her back legs told me she was an older, dry cow, apparently escaped and probably having happily snacked for a good while on a hay bale which had broken apart.

Unlike the heifers and steers which sometimes turn up in the haymow, she didn’t try to run over me to get back outside, just stood there looking at me. I quickly slammed shut the door on the hay-drop opening, just a few feet from where she stood. Having her get stuck in the opening — or fall through to the concrete alleyway below — was a situation we didn’t need. When I slipped around behind her, she slowly strolled out across the empty floor and exited through the opening of the big barn door, which I’d slid back to give her plenty of room.

Eventually, herd owner Andy’s two young sons corralled their old girl and walked her back down to the dairy barn, where she quietly returned to a box stall to rest and re-chew all the hay she’d snitched.

Some days, the farm feels like one big box of Cracker Jacks: you never know what surprise is gonna’ be there waiting for you to find.