chicken appreciation

April 19. Spring is hitting its dazzling irresistible stride, rebirth and bloom everywhere you turn. My gardening to-do lists get longer, with more starred items meaning Must Do Right Away, and when the Must Do items far exceed the hours in the day it sometimes sends me over the top. That’s when chickens perform their vital attitude-tweaking service.

3-week olds outside

All morning I putter in the house, feeling oppressed by the long lists of things to do immediately, and anxious because I’m not doing any of those things, but unable to proceed because Where to begin? It’s a pathetic kind of suffering, I think, thereby adding guilt and judgment to my condition. I can hear a background of chicken talk and at one particularly raucous crescendo I go out to check on them.

As usual, I can discern no cause for alarm. In fact, chicken world seems a contagiously happy place. At the sound of the gate opening, hens come running from all over the yard to see if I’m bearing treats. Edna the turkey too, and then she settles into a trance at my feet. How can I resist the glad-to-be-alive ambience?

Fiona in grain dish

I look into the chicken house. Fiona, the yearling turkey hen, is still wedged into the grain dish where she spent the night. She’s been laying an egg every few days since February, and now she’s broody, but she hasn’t yet gotten the part about mating.  As I pass by, one of the Orloffs who favors that particular dish for her eggs jumps up and hassles Fiona. After talking about it in an agitated way for a few minutes, the Orloff starts squeezing into the dish on top of the turkey.

It’s noon – I haven’t been out here since I set them up for the day at 7:30, cleaning up, changing waters, replenishing grain, distributing the big tub of weeds I pulled yesterday from a garden bed ready to come out of hibernation. Now there are 3 eggs in every popular laying spot – in the barrel with the Shamo hen still trying to brood (the Tragedy of the Turkey Eggs, stillborn, has not weakened her resolve), in the tall bag of shavings, in the Ameraucanas’ box, and of course in the very attractive grain dish overflowing with Fiona. (No eggs in any of the built-in laying boxes – I don’t bother looking there). Gathering eggs is a satisfaction that never fades.

Polish – 3 weeks old

In the inner sanctum of the chick room, I practice moving so slowly their tiny but well-developed alarms don’t go off. Even without a hen to show them, the chicks know to flee from large animals overhead. Most are asleep now, scattered about in flat downy heaps. Except one Cubalaya in the young-chick side of the box who flies up to the top of the water container to peer at me. She’s just a little too big to belong with the week-old chicks. When I pick her up to return her to the other side, she’s so relieved she forgets to struggle in my hand.

As I come back out to the garden, the sun comes out, and then a little breeze picks up. The sun is cheering but not really warm – which is good, making me realize there is still plenty of springtime left before the dry hot summer. The breeze is crisp and cool enough to be bracing.  Plenty of springtime still to come. Plenty of time.