Saturday, June 12, 2010

Finding Balance in the Oddest Places

This past Memorial Day I spent the afternoon cleaning out our chicken coop. We have a good size coop that houses twenty one laying hens and their one rooster. How we ended up with 20+ birds is an amusing story. In moving to the country it was our hope to raise children with an understanding of sustainability, agriculture and the value of hard work. My husband diligently built our red and white coop next to our barn with the help of our daughters. Upon completion, we festooned it with a navy blue metal star and an American folk art sign that read “Cackling Hatchery”. It was time to order its residents. After asking around, we learned of a popular mail order hatchery and placed the minimum order of chicks that they would allow – twenty five birds with one free ‘exotic’ breed as a bonus. As first time chicken owners, we thought it best to stick to one breed and settled on Barred Rocks. We received 22 hens and 4 roosters. The free exotic bird turned out to be a rooster and, upon maturity, attacked anyone who misguidedly made eye contact with him. He, along with two of the other roosters, was eventually on the losing end of hutch combat due to apparent congenital aggression. Dexter is our one remaining rooster who either successfully perpetrated the battles or simply knew how and when to just stay out of it.

When the call came from the local post office that we had received a peeping package, we rushed to pick up our tiny box of 26 one day old chicks. We felt quite smart for a short while until we realized weeks later that chicks can be purchased individually from Agway this time of year. Nevertheless, we were now the proud owners of a fairly large flock of birds. They have provided us with eggs dependably ever since and thanks to Dexter neither I nor my neighbors have ever woken up late or slept in!

This was the first coop cleaning of the spring and the task at hand glamorously involved chiseling away at months of chicken waste. The process is time consuming, back breaking, and bicep building. Aside from the overpowering odor which seems to draw oxygen from the lungs, the process is admittedly gratifying. With the neck of my t-shirt pulled up over my mouth and nose to protect what waning lung capacity I had left, my mind wandered onto all the folks soaking up the sun on shorelines around the country on this reverent holiday. I thought of my friends and family who were likely on the Cape showering sand off their sun kissed babies and getting dressed for seafood dinners. I wondered for a moment why I chose this lifestyle over one that more easily accommodates impromptu vacations and relaxation over three day weekends. Then I remembered one of my favorite quotes from a commentary by Andy Rooney. He said “Eating is good, sleeping is good and playing is good but work is best”.

Our faithful flock of healthy, free range hens dots our landscape and adds a balanced layer of activity and tranquility to our farm. Dexter has grown into a perfect gentleman -proudly policing the yard and continuing to prove the naysayers wrong who assured us of his inevitable hostility toward humans. Their ceremony of going home to roost as the sun sets is often the only predictable outcome I can count on in a day.

As I finished the coop, I stood back to inspect my work - dirty, sweaty and tired but proud. I would have enjoyed some time on the beach that weekend, but that time comes too, and on this day I was glad for the undertaking and the resulting sense of accomplishment.


Laura Elizabeth said...

It sounds like hard work. I think I want a couple some day but not soon! LOL I'm allergic to eggs anyway, but my family would love it! Cheers to your accomplishments!!!

Dina said...

Hi Laura. I do love the chickens and the fresh eggs. They are relatively easy to keep with the exception of the coop cleaning. Thanks for your comment and for reading!