Tuesday, March 2, 2010

II. Birds of a Feather (part I)

Springtime picnics are complicated by the presence of the chickens. These birds have an uncanny knack for getting into mischief, and a terrible ineptitude when it comes to getting out of it. Combine this with an insatiable appetite for all things edible, a steely reptilian stare, and the gait and bearing of a velociraptor, and you wind up with unwelcome company. We have had more than one backyard luncheon end in tears, and the chickens are usually to blame. Still, sitting down to a tasty egg salad sandwich, it's hard to begrudge the chickens anything. They may not have the warm liquid eyes of a puppy dog, but they do their share to keep this place in groceries, and in recognition of that we try to forgive them their trespasses. 

The chickens of Bent Barrow Farm have their bunker and attached shedroof, four nest boxes, four perches (two indoor, two out), four nest boxes, two troughs, one feed hopper, and five ladders. In addition to these human-supplied elements, they have a half-dozen or so dust wallows and two secret nests of their own creation. 

They are predictable birds: on a sunny morning, they wait for a human hand to open their 8"x8" ramp door, by which they can exit the coop and descend to the grassy garden path. They make immediately for the compost, where they sort through the previous night's kitchen scraps. They particularly relish egg products, and I am thankful that they have not yet discovered self-sufficiency in this regard. 

Returning to the coop for a second breakfast of layer pellets and a drink of water, the hens then make for their nests by twos or threes in spring and summer, leaving us eight or ten eggs on a good day. Each bird has her own signature variety; we have one Americauna hen who lays the most vivid pale blue eggs, always somewhat elongated, and another who lays perfect little ovals of olive green. Our Rhode Island Reds lay pretty little chestnut eggs, while our Barred Rocks lay tan eggs, each in her own shade and shape. We get one egg each day in pale tan dappled with delicate, ruddy splatters. 

In the summertime, our egg production is high enough that I sell the excess at the commercial print shop where I work part-time. I supply Toebee, a much loved gerbil, who is only allowed one egg breakfast each week but who is treated like royalty on that Saturday morning. The remaining eleven will be enjoyed by Toebee's mistress, a customer service rep., but that first egg is his. I always try to make sure that there is one stand-out in every dozen, an egg of such measured proportion and perfect hue that it cannot help but be chosen for the little prince's diminuative feast. 

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