Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mixed Bag

Life is a mixed bag.

Some of you may remember all the rain at the end of August and how hurricane Irene really walloped our egg mobile -hens adrift - poultry stress - egg laying cuts - hello, molt! - egg laying ceased.

I put a photo of this hen up last week to introduce our gratitude series and to draw a comparison between our infrequent posts and her infrequent feathers. She caught my eye because she looked so remarkably disheveled. She was one of the last to molt and seemed to have a rougher go of it than the others. Even though it has been a very mild November, it is colder at night now than it was in September.

Our flock has been turning in to roost in the early afternoon before the sun is even down. Once last week I had come in (to the egg mobile) around 3:30pm to check their feed and found them already in quiet repose, lined up along their horizontal perches with thin veils drawn over their eyeballs. This hen was the exception. She was trying to keep herself warm in the splattering of straw that lined her nesting box, looking alert and anxiously curious.

I found her dead beneath the egg mobile on Thanksgiving. I was pushing spent feed over the edge of the trough feeder and noticed a little mess of feathers through the hog fencing beneath my feet. I was worried that she had been cannibalized by the others, or mauled by some ferrel predator, but when I pulled her out it was clear that she had just died silently, ignored by her companions. Chickens are funny that way. One of them was pecking food from around her corpse. Another was enjoying a dust bath by her side. Whatever. Life was too cold for her. She didn't have her feathers. We'll just carry on. I imagine that is what the flock must have been thinking, but I realize that's just what I've been thinking.

The upshot is that after a little less than three weeks with a light bulb on a timer in the hen house (and I thought I got up early), we have our first white egg today. We haven't seen one in months. On the whole, the group has gone from looking dusty and dull to being full of vibrant life and color. Their breasts are a rich orange and gold ochre. Their forms look robust once again. A second laying season commences; life churns onward.

- Alanna

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