In which the mystery of the dug-up seedlings on the deck is explained:
We’re just going to pretend May didn’t exist, ‘k?
I might talk about it sometime, but suffice it to say that it was a month of profound imbalance, lived largely in vehicles and including an astonishing number of grabbed meals on-the-run, and the gaining of 10 pounds. I’m cranky, irritable, and generally not much fun to be around after that. Also, it felt like it lasted 3 times as long as normal. Let’s put it this way: The most recent weekend included four parties and a school event, on top of swimming classes, spontaneous house guests and a stomach bug. That would be the nature of all the not-writing I’ve been doing for the last 4 weeks.
Ctrl-Alt-Del. Kill processes. I think I need to take the week long workshop on balance that I taught last summer.
Spring is finally here (ish) on the east-er coast. Although we had to light a fire in the woodstove this morning, and the plants have stalled out due to an entire month of overcast skies, there was sun yesterday and the black flies are out in force. Also, the new chickens arrived! I am told that they are unsexed Ameraucana and Araucana chicks, so half of them are likely to be roosters. These are astonishingly pretty birds, which look like wee chickens dressed in hawk costumes. They also have green feet, which are super-cute. (And yes, I’m becoming quite mad for chickens.)
They are currently about three weeks old, and are living on a tarp in the corner of the office. They will be moved to the coop tomorrow, we plan, as long as nobody else gets too sick to help with the coop modifications. (Here’s hoping.)
Did I mention that they lay blue eggs? Mad, I tell you. Quite mad.
And a quick moment I captured that I wanted to share. When my two children got off the bus yesterday, they both were reading as they came up the driveway. (The younger one is reading The Hobbit. Take that, school, for scolding our family reading habits on report-card day. “Needs to read daily,” indeed. Try and stop them, I say.)
We forgot to close up the chicken coop. It is one of our nightly tasks, along with putting children to bed, making dinner, bringing in the firewood. Every night, we must close up the chicken coop. Last night we had people around for dinner, my husband was out for the day, people were coming and going at the time when we are usually doing our nightly routine. I thought about it a couple of times, and then was sure that my husband had taken care of it, because he arrived home after dark, and the light from the coop shines down the driveway, a beacon to remind us. But in the end, we forgot.
I glanced out the window at 6 this morning, and noticed. Thought about it briefly, thought that we hadn’t seen a fox in months, thought we were going to have to figure out a way to remember. I was more concerned about them being cold.
Just before 7, one of the neighbours called to say that there was a fox running down the driveway and two dead chickens in the yard. We dashed out in pajamas and winter boots. It was much worse than that. There were several dead chickens between the house and the coop, and when I went into the coop itself, I didn’t see any chickens in the first room. In the end, we found that 11 chickens are missing, 6 of which were still in the yard. That is nearly half the birds, and almost all of the young, plump ones. We were mortified, imagined our poor chickens as the fox came and went again and again, and knew that this was our fault, the punishment for our moments of inattention. “Oh, if only!” Even if I had gone out at 6, it might have helped one or two of them. But we generally open up the coop around 7, so there didn’t seem to be much point. And we hadn’t seen a fox in months.
Routines are our defense against having to think things through again and again. But when they get disrupted, and we are jumped forward to the wrong part of the routine, and we don’t have a back up plan, things get forgotten. Usually we get away with it, but sometimes, those moments of inattention cost lives. And this time it was “just” the chickens, and we eat chickens, and maybe it’s not so bad (unless you are one of the chickens.) But we made a commitment to protect these wee birds and give them a decent life in exchange for their eggs, and we forgot them.
My husband went out, and he gathered the chickens around the yard, and he fed the ones that were left, and he changed their water. And he said that the fox came across the frozen river, he followed the tracks, and we really hadn’t had a fox in months and months. And that makes it a little better, I guess, because I really want the chickens to be able to wander around, and have access to fresh air, and all the things that increase the risk of being small, defenseless, and tasty.
But these moments of inattention are the same thing that cause car accidents, and workplace accidents, and children getting lost, and drownings in the bathtub, and houses burning down, and, and, and… and the list of what-ifs gets as long as my arm, a litany of things I might forget in a moment of inattention.
And I find myself, for much longer than a moment, whispering, “Thank goodness it was ‘just’ the chickens.”
The chickens got out about 15 minutes ago, as they do every few days. When one has livestock AND a garden, this is an urgent situation. Last fall they skeletonized two rows of chard the week that they were ready for the market. So, I dashed out the door and met my son, sticks in hand. (The sticks are for looking larger, and occasional pokes. We do not hit the chickens with them.) After I blocked the hole in the fence, I rounded up the birds. He opened and closed the gate on the pen. This was a 10 minute operation involving me running hither and yon, dodging and weaving. It generally involves frustration and irritation because chickens are small, fast, and kind of dumb.
When we were done, he looked at me, grinned, and said, “Hey! That was kind of fun! It’s sort of like a sport.”
And do you know? He was right.
So, after the debacle with the greenhouse on Sunday, and reassurance from the farming community yesterday, this morning was spent taking the plastic off the defunct frame so that I can reuse it on a sturdier frame. While I was trucking the remains of the greenhouse back to the shed, I discovered the feathery remains of a chicken. I do not see a body, but the exploded-chicken look is strongly reminiscent of the last encounter with a fox. I’m quite sure that the chicken is an ex-chicken.
This causes me to rethink my approach to free-ranging the chickens, especially as 1) my daughter rolled in chicken poop in the middle of the lawn the other day, and 2) the chickens are proving nearly impossible to keep out of the gardens. I think I need about a five foot wall to exclude the chickens, and the first pass is only four feet tall. It seems to me that I could fence in 1/4 acre or so for the critters, rather than needing to fence all the garden beds and the children’s play space.
I’m thinking it might be time to divest ourselves of about 2/3 of the chickens and get back down to the number that feed us and a couple of immediate friends. They really are more trouble than they are worth, since I calculate that they are paying off at about $5 per chicken per month, and doing about that much damage to the vegetable garden. Even if they didn’t do things like skeletonize the chard bed just when it was ready to take to market, dig up the garlic, and eat all the baby spinach that we’ve been growing since last autumn, the chicken care work would only pay about $2 per hour. Add in the damage, and the extra effort on containment, and we’re almost certainly losing money. In my ever-articulate style, “Flurm,” is about all I have to say.
We have a small (but growing) flock of laying hens. I was all keen on the fresh eggs, but I have been surprised to find out how much I love my chickens.
They turn out to be really funny and affectionate (in a distant bird-kind-of-way). They come a-runnin’ to see what’s happening when somebody steps out the back door, and their run is comical. I have a moment of delight every time I see the chickens scurrying around or digging in the ‘chicken garden’ (a plot of land that we have left unplanted so that they have somewhere to take dustbaths without killing the beans). Most of ‘The Girls’ are Rhode Island Reds we adopted from a larger farm when they closed up operations, but we have 16 baby Golden Comets and 2 adult and 4 baby Leghorns so that we have white eggs for dying in the spring.
That’s my joy for the day: magical chickens!