Thursday, March 5, 2009

More chicken musings

Raising chickens has brought to life the real meaning of the well worn phrases “pecking order”, “coming home to roost”, and most certainly about a “fox in the hen house”. Nearly every morning I’m counting my chickens and our birds chatter like a bunch of old hens. My children, and especially my husband, delight in discovering more and more of our common idioms that originated with chickens. We understand literally about getting your feathers ruffled and having something to crow about. By the way, roosters don’t need much to crow about. They crow not just in the morning but all day long whenever they are startled and many times for no apparent reason. There is much that is amusing and surprisingly, a lot that is beautiful, about raising chickens.

I love gathering the eggs. We attempted to convince our hens to lay their eggs in the hen house early in this process. We were very proud of ourselves when we managed to fool them in to laying their eggs in the cat litter boxes we’d provided. We planted plastic easter eggs filled with sand among the wood shavings that filled each box and in no time real eggs began appearing snuggled next to the fake ones. This worked just fine until the hens discovered the hay pile. They much prefer perching as high as they can hop/fly on the stacks of hay. They burrow little nests in the tops of bales and happily lay their eggs. Sometimes several hens will lay their eggs in the same “nest”. In the evening when I collect the eggs it is like an Easter egg hunt. All those stories about collecting the fresh eggs each morning were wrong – our chickens lay their eggs during the day, not the night. I love climbing over the bales searching for the hidden eggs. The hens move their nests periodically. They seem a bit affronted that someone is stealing their eggs. Every now and then they secure a really good spot and I miss their eggs for a few days. When this happens, soon all the chickens are laying in the same safe spot and this gives them away because I notice the drop in production and renew my efforts to find the missing eggs.

I have to wait to collect the eggs until the hens are already in their roosts for the night, otherwise I am followed by scolding birds as I search and gather. This makes me feel incredibly guilty and just a bit threatened. I look in to their angry faces, and imagine what they could do with their pointy beaks if they really lost their cool. I know if I were a hen and I’d worked to pop out what are increasingly becoming jumbo size eggs, I’d be pretty furious with the giant who kept stealing them. I’d begin to plan attacks on the said giant’s ankles at the very least.

Walking back to the house with my basket of eggs I always feel a little bit awed. Here is nature providing. A hundred years ago everyone kept chickens and it’s easy to see why. They eat scraps and bugs and grass and weeds, keep the ticks and grubs in check, and fertilize the gardens. And in return you get delicious, fresh eggs filled with protein and vitamins that sustain. Eggs are one of the few foods all three of my children will eat. Now that we have chickens I keep an egg carton of hard boiled eggs ready to go at all times. They make the perfect snack. And hopefully come summer we will have a few less Japanese beetles devouring my raspberries thanks to the chickens’ healthy appetite for grubs. It’s a win-win. Nature as it was intended to be.

As the winter marches on, the hay piles are shrinking (the ponies must be fed) and I worry where the girls will lay their eggs come spring. I can’t imagine them going back to the liter boxes after the adventures of laying on the hay pile. No doubt my egg hunting will continue far beyond Easter.

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