Authors: Judy Cox
“Down, boys. DOWN!” ordered Miss Clay. She trotted down the sidewalk toward them. “I'm sorry,” she told Daniel, panting a little as she snapped the leashes back on the dogs. “I just can't make them behave.”
“It's okay,” said Daniel. “I like animals.”
Mr. and Mrs. Grafalo lived on the other side of Daniel, in a big green house. Mr. Grafalo was in the front yard, pulling weeds out of his begonias. Mr. Grafalo had been a high school principal before he retired. Now he loved to garden. His roses won prizes at the state fair. Rain or shine, he was nearly always working in his yard when Daniel came home from the bus stop.
Mr. Grafalo believed in rules and order. The kids called him “Mr. Gruffalo” behind his back, because he was so grouchy. He had often pounded on the Millers'
door, demanding that they get their bikes off his lawn. Or tear down the tree house that overlooked his backyard. Or cut down their wildflowers, which he called weeds.
But Mrs. Grafalo had a sweet smile. She gave out king-sized candy bars on Halloween. Sometimes she baby-sat Daniel and his sisters after school. She always had homemade cookies and chocolate milk for them. Her house was full of pictures of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They all lived far away. Daniel knew she missed them.
Mrs. Grafalo was sitting on the front porch. She waved when she saw Daniel. “Come on up,” she called. “I just baked. I have a batch of gingersnaps to send home with you.”
Daniel ran up the front steps and took the cookie tin. The smell made his mouth water. “Guess what, Mrs. G.?” he asked. “My class is going to hatch chicks! I'm going to get one!”
“How lovely, dear,” said Mrs. Grafalo. “We always had chickens on the farm when I was a girl. I had a pet rooster named Edmund. He used to follow me around like a dog. I do hope you'll bring your chick over to meet me.”
“Humph!” said Mr. Grafalo from the begonias.
He looked up, but didn't smile. His bushy eyebrows looked fierce above his gold-rimmed glasses. “Chickens! They belong in the country! Or in a stew pot,” he added darkly.
“Don't mind him,” whispered Mrs. G. “Enjoy the cookies. When you bring back the tin, I'll fill it again. Give my love to your family.”
“Dinnertime!” called Dad.
“Okay!” yelled Daniel. He was in his room playing with his pets. He lifted Jasper, his white rat, off his shoulder and put him back into his tank. Speedy, his gerbil, rolled past in his ball. Daniel scooped him up and put him into his cage. He held out his finger to Mr. Feathers, who sat chirping on the lamp. Mr. Feathers climbed aboard, and Daniel put him into the birdcage. Then he washed his hands and went down the hall.
Daniel made his move at dinner. He knew he'd have to be cagey. Not come right out and ask.
He started while Dad dished up the tofu meat loaf. Dad liked to cook vegetarian meals. He worked at home, running a website called “Eco-Dad.” Daniel thought it had something to do with recycling. Or the environment. Or both.
“Last night I saw a TV show about keeping chickens
in your backyard,” Daniel said. He handed a plate to Kelsey, his seven-year-old sister.
Dad nodded. Dad, like Daniel, wore glasses. They steamed up as he spooned a scoop of lima beans onto Emmy's plate. Emmy was four. She went to preschool.
“I've heard about that,” Dad said. He took off his glasses. He cleaned them on his napkin. “People raise backyard chickens for the eggs.”
Mom speared a slice of tofu meat loaf with her fork. Mom was an X-ray nurse. Her job kept her busy, but she tried to be home to eat dinner with the family every night. “Chickens are messy,” she said. She handed the meat loaf to Daniel.
“No, really, Mom. It's a good idea. They eat bugs that get in the vegetable garden,” Daniel said. He stirred his lima beans into his mashed turnips. He did not like lima beans. Stirring them into the turnips made them easier to eat.
“Chickens are smelly,” said Mom. She unfolded a napkin and tucked it under Emmy's chin.
“Sustainable food,” said Dad, taking a bite of turnips. “Organic eggs. Eat local. Save money.” Dad's eyes shone. Count on Dad to get excited about new ideas.
“Yum. Fried chicken,” said Tyler. He talked with his mouth full. Trust Tyler. He was in middle school. He always had something snarky to say.
“No!” said Kelsey. “Chickens could be pets. If we had chickens, we could name them.” Daniel smiled at her. Kelsey shared his love for animals, and for naming things.
“Me too! I want chickens, too!” yelled Emmy, waving her spoon. She hit her glass of milk. It tipped over.
Dad mopped up the spilled milk. “It's something I've considered. Fresh eggs. Manure to fertilize the garden. And chickens keep the bugs down. Without toxic pesticides.”
Good! Dad was on his side. Now it was time to convince Mom. “Mrs. Lopez said our class is going to hatch chicks. She said I could bring one home if I have two dollars and a note from my parents.” He looked at Mom and smiled a cheesy smile.
Mom didn't even blink. “No more animals,” she said, just like she always did. “Dad and I have enough to do with our jobs and with the four of you. And what about the pets you already own?”
“I take care of them!” said Daniel. He thought about Jasper, Speedy, and Mr. Feathers. And his tank of guppies. Uh-oh. Had he remembered to feed them?
“I fed your fish,” said Mom, as if she'd read his mind. “You forgot.”
“That won't ever happen again,” Daniel said. “Cross my heart. If you let me have a chick, I promise I'll do all the work. You won't have to do a thing.”
“I want a chick, too,” said Kelsey.
“Me too! Me too!” said Emmy, waving her spoon again.
“If everyone else gets one, I want one, too,” said Tyler. He never liked being left out. “I'll name mine Drumstick. Or maybe Egg Foo Yung!” He cracked himself up.
“Chickens are noisy,” said Mom. “All that crowing in the early morning.”
“Only the roosters crow,” Daniel pointed out. “We won't have a rooster. We'll have hens.”
“We could have a club. The chicken club,” said Kelsey. She always wanted to start clubs.
But Tyler snorted. “Chicken club. That's a sandwich, dummy.”
“Don't call your sister names,” said Mom. “We live in the city,” she continued. “We can't raise chickens in our backyard. Isn't it against the law or something?”
Tyler stopped chewing. “Hey. We talked about that in current events,” he said. “Portland changed the city laws to allow people to raise chickens in their backyards. Lots of people are doing it. Except you can't have roosters because they wake people up.” Daniel was surprised that Tyler had been paying attention in class, but he appreciated the help.
Mom didn't look convinced, but Daniel could tell she'd started to waver.
Dad took up the argument. “I think it's a great idea. Once you taste a truly fresh egg, warm from the nest, you won't be sorry.”
“Please, Mom?” said Daniel.
“Pretty please?” said Kelsey.
“Pretty please with sugar on top?” said Emmy.
Mom looked around the table. She sighed. “I know
when I'm outvoted. But hear this: only one chick. Daniel will bring it home. Daniel will take care of it.” She turned to Daniel. “You'll have to give it food and water every single day. And clean up all messes!”
“Thank you, Mom!”
“Don't thank me yet. It will be a lot of work.” Then she smiled and Daniel knew she wasn't mad. “And one more thing,” she added. “No roosters!”
Daniel jogged down the street to the bus stop. He didn't want to be late. Not today. He had two dollars in his backpack. He also had a signed note from his parents, giving their permission to bring home one chick.
the eggs hatched.
Mr. Grafalo was on his hands and knees, digging. His big orange cat sat on the front steps.
As much as Daniel loved animals, somehow he couldn't warm up to that cat. He looked like a giant orange fur ball. The cat's real name was Pumpkin, but Daniel called him Poison because he was so mean. Even Miss Clay's poodles were scared of him. They always hid when they saw him swagger down the
street. The cat hissed at Daniel. Daniel glared back. He'd seen that cat in his backyard, stalking birds.
“Good morning, Mr. Grafalo!” he yelled as he ran past.
“Humph,” said Mr. Grafalo. “Good for somebody. Maybe.”
Once in the classroom, Daniel was first in line to hand in his permission slip. Fourteen kids lined up behind Daniel. Uh-oh. Twelve eggs. Fifteen kids. Even if all the eggs hatched, three kids wouldn't get chicks.
“How will you decide?” Daniel asked Mrs. Lopez.
Mrs. Lopez scratched her head. “We need to make it fair,” she said.
“I handed my slip in first,” said Daniel. “So I should get the first chick.”
“I wasn't paying attention to what order the slips came in,” Mrs. Lopez admitted. She pointed to the pile on her desk. “I know! We'll hold a drawing. I'll put the slips in a jar. When the eggs hatch, we'll count how many chicks we have. Then we'll draw that many names. Each person whose name is drawn can pick out a chick.”
Mrs. Lopez stacked all the slips. She slid them into
a file folder. “Now that we have good homes arranged for each chick, I'll order the eggs. In the meantime, let's set up the incubator.”
The incubator looked like a large spaceship with a clear plastic dome. Mrs. Lopez took off the top. Inside were places for twelve eggs. There was a light bulb to keep the eggs warm. She plugged it in, and showed the class how to set the thermostat.
“Our eggs need a constant temperature of about 100 degrees, give or take a few degrees,” she told them. “We'll have to check the temperature every day.” She put a thermometer inside.
There was a water trough, too. Mrs. Lopez filled the container with water to add moisture to the air. “The humidity has to be 58 to 60 percent for the first eighteen days,” she said, putting a gauge next to the thermometer. “We'll read the gauge every day, and add water if the trough dries up. On day nineteen, we'll increase the humidity to 65 percent. That will keep the eggs moist so they'll hatch.”
In a few days the eggs came. Daniel expected the eggs to be white, like the ones Mom bought at the store. But these eggs were all different. Some were white, but there were brown, green, and blue eggs,
too. Some were the size of store eggs, but there were a few smaller ones.
“I ordered mixed breeds,” said Mrs. Lopez. “So we don't know what the chicks will look like. They are from different breeds of chickens.” She pointed to a poster on the wall. Some chickens had stripes. Some had spots. Some had feathery topknots. Some had feathery legs. “It will be a surprise. I thought that would be more fun,” she added.
Mrs. Lopez showed them how to place the eggs in the incubator with the small ends pointed slightly down. She marked an X on one side and an O on the other side of each egg. “We have to turn the eggs for the first eighteen days,” she said. “The Xs and Os will remind us which side to face up.”
The eggs had to be turned three times a day, even on the weekends. First all the eggs had to be turned so the X side was on top. Several hours later, they had to be turned again. This time the Os had to be on top. The small end had to point the same way all the time.
Daniel pointed to a small brown egg. “That one's mine,” he said. “That will be my chick.”
Mrs. Lopez laughed. “I like your enthusiasm. But remember,” she warned, “not all our eggs will hatch.
And sometimes even when an egg hatches, the chick dies.”
Daniel barely heard her. His eyes were glued to the eggs in the incubator. His chick was forming inside one of them. He just knew it.
For the next twenty-one days, Daniel was in heaven. The class learned a lot of new vocabulary words, like
. Mrs. Lopez handed out egg journals. “We'll keep track of our data every day,” she told the class. “Write the date, current temperature and humidity, and any changes you observe.”