As I step out the back door into the semi-darkness, taking in that first breath of a new day, I feel privileged, like I’m part of a special world. Yes, even in the middle of winter. I walk out the back gate into the field, pausing as I check out the sunrise, then continue down the slope, over the stream, making sure I don’t slip, which I do – often, and un-hook the electric fence.
This morning the buzzard flew over and landed in the tree next to me. He (or she) likes to watch the chickens. During the day he flies from one spot to another in a triangle around the orchard. Keeping an eye on those pesky hens and troublesome ducks. Which are, incidentally, far too fat for him to pick up. (I hope.) I also see the red kite. Swooping and soaring in the skies above me.
As I open the shed to take out the layers pellets for the ducks, I can hear them jumping at the door to their duck house to get out; to feel the daylight on their feathers, root around for slugs and have their first swim in the pond. I put the feeder on the floor and open their door. Quack-quack-quack-quackety-quack – oh they’re so happy to be out. They fart, make splat noises as they relieve themselves, and start shovelling up some food. Their beaks making tapity-tap noises on the feeder as they gobble it quickly. If I’ve left the electric fence open for them, they’re soon out, running in single file, and splash, into the water they go. Their tails do a few wags. Shakin’ their tail feathers. They’re so happy. I could watch them for ages.
Unfortunately the chickens start shouting at me to hurry up.
Time to put the chickens’ layers pellets in their feeders, though they like to eat from the duck one, and some I scatter on the floor for them to peck and scratch at.
I can spy the robin, the wren and three blackbirds are also waiting for me to hurry up so they can help themselves to their breakfast. But I can’t pause. I need to let the chickens out of the two coops. I could hear them singing away, calling me, from the field gate, impatient to stretch their wings, to have a drink and to scratch around. Although they’re drowned out a little by the ducks’ impatient calls.
One of them is particularly impatient to get out of her coop so she can make a beeline for the other coop in order to lay her egg. I shake my head. That’s chickens for you.
I feed them, refresh their water – or de-ice it if it’s a frosty morning – and check inside their coops, in the laying box just in case there is an early egg. Most of the time all I find is poop, they are mucky birds especially over winter when they’re cooped up for longer, so I take that out (yes, ugh) and put in some fresh wood shavings. There is no chance of getting a clean egg when the ground is so muddy but mud is preferable to poop.
This morning they wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew what they wanted. When it is really cold, or really muddy, they can’t scratch at the ground for worms and other exciting treats. So I go into the shed again and take out a pile of straw, scattering it around a large area so they all get to have a scratch and explore. If they’re lucky they’ll find some wheat still left on the stalk. I scatter it in a large area because chickens can be mean to the lower ranking ones if they think they’re in their straw. I’ve already had to administer first aid to a young white chicken, whose comb had been attacked by one of my oldest ones and was bleeding starkly into her white feathers. Honestly.
And then, I’m done. I walk out the electric fence gate, and carry on around the field with the dog whose nose, incidentally, has been inside a rabbit hole the entire time I’ve been with the chickens. We listen to the woodpecker, laughing away, and the male pheasant, who sounds like a broken old fashioned car horn, a few crows, perhaps defending their territory from the birds of prey, and walk back indoors to make myself a coffee.
Refreshed, invigorated and feeling incredibly fortunate to see the countryside waking up.
Music: She Moved Through the Fair by Sláinte