Saturday, November 29, 2014

Just Enough, Just in Time

"Just in Time Eggs" Lori exclaimed.  And, as it turned out, just enough.

The girls have been rather parsimonious these past couple of weeks.  Where once a daily take of eggs was 8-10, the common harvest more recently has dropped to one or two.  It's a daylight thing -- and though the books and blogs I read don't acknowledge it, I have to believe the single-digit temperatures intrude their own disincentive.  All that, plus their snowbound inactivity.  No snowmen are getting assembled out in the chicken yard.  They don't much like wet feet, and so keep themselves to the enclosed run and the little area on which I have scattered straw.

But Thanksgiving week was upon us and we had serious plans for cooking.  Fortunately we had hoarded back what we trusted would be an adequate supply for the menus.  Half a dozen went into the breakfast cups we served to guests on Thanksgiving morning.  And there was the sweet potato pie Lori baked for the evening's dessert.  The fried rice for Friday's Asian-themed celebration required a couple more.  And so it was that when it came time to work on the special pear cake intended to cap the special evening only two remained in the basket, while the recipe called for three.  "I think we are actually going to have to buy some," we acknowledged to one another.   

"Let me go check, just in case," I said without much enthusiasm.  Contrary to all the lore that has encircled me since childhood, my hens seem to prefer afternoons for laying.  They might rise early in the morning, but it seems to take them the better part of the day to work up -- and out -- an egg.  This mid-morning expedition, in other words, stood little chance of success.  But there they were -- three of them, the little over-achievers, as if recognizing the special occasion and rising to it.  Enough, with two to spare -- just in the nick of time.

And then came evening and the eggroll preparations.  The fillings were prepared, the wrappers were arranged for the grand assembly.  With a forgetful panic we realized that eggs were needed to seal the rolls.  Two eggs to complete the job.

Which we suddenly remembered we had.

Exactly two.

Just in time.

Just the right number.

As if the girls had been reading our recipes.

But that's a foolish thought.  They are just stupid chickens, right? 
Chickens can't read, can they?

I am not prepared to say.  What I CAN say is that the breakfast cups were memorable, the pie was delectable, the eggrolls admirably held together, and the Double Pear Pudding Cake with Warm Caramel-Cognac sauce was, indeed, a mountaintop experience. 

Just enough, just in time. 

The sky is forecast to be clear and sunny, with moderating temperatures through the weekend.  The snow will melt giving the chickens free range to play and stretch their legs.  And who knows, maybe they will even lay an egg or two along the way.  But as far as I'm concerned they have earned a rest.  An egg sabbath, if you will.  We'll need more eventually, and there are customers after all.  But we have leftovers in the meantime.

And gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, girls.  Thanks for all the help.

Monday, November 17, 2014


It was my omniscience that determined yesterday to be the day the twins moved into the big coop after six weeks in the annex.  Or maybe it was the winter-chilled lethargy that had been shaving down my interest in outside tasks these last few days.  Whichever, I thought I would give it a try and see what happened.  I'll admit that its not that much extra effort to open two coops in the mornings and close them again each evening.  It doesn't really take that much time to check both sets of nesting boxes for eggs each afternoon, but after a month's worth of enforced segregation and two weeks of daytime inter-play, it seemed reasonable to think that the girls would all be well enough acquainted to share a common roost.  That, and the onset of winter, plus forecasted nighttime temperatures plunging below the teens of recent darknesses into the single-digits starting tonight, made me suspicion that the girls might welcome every extra degree of body heat they could capture in their space. 

So, yesterday afternoon I closed up the annex while everyone in the yard was otherwise occupied.  As dusk began to tuck the beaks and droop the eyelids, eleven sets of feet trooped up the ramp and settled in for the night.  The twins padded across the straw I had scattered over the snow toward their familiar slumbers. 

And pulled up short.  Somethings was amiss. 

Access thwarted via their usual entrance, they bobbed around to the far side. 


In tandem they reapproached the door, and stared at it, as if force of will could raise it.


Again they circled to the far side, around the back, and again approached the front -- sneaking up on it, perhaps, as though it might be playing a trick. 

Still closed.

After yet another circuit around, both jumped atop the hay bale positioned as a windbreak nearby, and then up upon the roost as if a different angle of vision might reveal some access they had missed. 


Having run out of options, and after one final circle around, the two adolescent Light Brahmas began the long march across the straw toward the Big House. 

The Trail of Tears.

Slowly they moved, as if every step was a labor, until reaching the half-way point they stopped.  It was as if something deep inside of them suddenly and simultaneously comprehended that they simply couldn't do it.  Without so much as a cluck or a sideward glance, they turned together and reversed course; retreating back toward the annex -- the only space they knew or remembered to be home. 

I have no idea what inward plan they had silently hatched.  Would they have continued to circle the structure, praying like Joshua that the walls would come down?  Failing that, would they really have huddled up together against the closed door of familiarity, resolving to keep each other as warm as they could, and try their best in a cuddled embrace to ride out the night?  Would they eventually give in to despair, resign themselves to community, trek back up to the main coop and silently, chastened, slip in amongst the others?

I have no way of knowing.  That mid-course reversal and dejected retreat broke my heart and, armed again with boots, coats and gloves, I trudged back out into the yard and opened the door to their home.  I'll never know, I suppose, if their muted clucks were gratitude or scolding as they toddled past me through the opened space and settled into the familiar bedding within.  And we'll have this drama to play out again in the coming evenings.

But last night all of us slept a little more peacefully.  And if this morning's exit is any attestation, everyone stayed warm enough.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All Will Be Well

Winter has pounded on the door, announcing its arrival with shredding winds, teasing dusts of snow, and temperatures in the teens. We had ample warning, and so in the few days preceding we hustled to complete what preparations we could. Drip tapes and feeder lines for the garden's irrigation are stowed until summer. The remaining Swiss Chard and Kale from the first of the season's planting are harvested, blanched, bagged and frozen, and a low tunnel now covers three garden rows teaming with adolescent collards and kale, valiantly stretching the growing season to its extreme. Winds that first night took destructive advantage of the structure's weaknesses, but nothing was ultimately lost apart from our earlier pride of accomplishment. We scrounged supplies for the fix and the resulting version is indeed "new and improved." Meanwhile, I had prepared two long trenches using the broad fork and manure, and together we nestled garlic into the ready soil. Eventually I will want to cover the beds with stray, but with any luck this arctic blast is but an opening salvo that will moderate a bit and take a deep breath before settling in for the duration and I can take advantage of the reprieve to tie up outdoor loose ends. If not...well, I suppose that's why they make thermal overalls and coats.

I had conceived of a plastic jacket for the chicken coop to help winterized their space. The idea wasn't to seal it from the elements, but simply expand space out of the wind and prevent snow from drifting into the run. I had applied industrial strength Velcro strips around the dome, and together Lori and I draped the plastic sheeting and applied the facing strips. Subsequent days have taught me that adhesives aren't made for freezing temperatures, but bungee cords have succeeded where Velcro had failed. The heated waterer is plugged in and operational, and the girls seem happily at home. Though to my way of thinking it would be warmer to overnight snuggled in with the rest of the flock, Nan and Flossie, the two newest arrivals -- named for the Bobbsey Twins they faithfully emulate -- still return to the annex for bedtime, but otherwise seem fully at home with their neighbors.

I suppose converting the lawn mower to a snowblower is next, but the weekend will likely be soon enough.

Inside, the fireplace has been repaired, the furnace has been serviced, and the windows are tight. The snowshoes are hanging ready in the garage and the freezers and pantry shelves are stocked with the goodness of summer.

And we have the luxury of time together to which to look forward in these shivering days of diminishing light.

Which is to say "welcome back dear winter. We were expecting you, and all is made ready."

Well, almost ready. But all will be well.