Letter from Birdland: Counting my chickens before they're attacked

Letter from Birdland: Counting my chickens before they're attacked

Autumn has come to Birdland. A chilly dampness clings to the air, and wet leaves cling to my shoes as I carry pellets out to feed the chickens.

Last night I went to bed early but woke to a full moon streaming in my window. Somehow the moonlight reminded me that I had forgotten to shut the chickens up, and I went outside in my robe and garden clogs. The moon lit the yard like day, and I could only think it was perfect hunting weather for nocturnal predators.

Turning the corner around the side of the house, I braced myself for possible tragedy: feathers and blood and a silent coop, but no. I lucked out once again. My carelessness has been overlooked this time. Our coop has three doors and I open two each morning. One door I prop open, but if I forget, the wind sometimes closes both, and the chickens can't get in at night.

In that case they all pile up on the roof of the coop, vulnerable to an owl flying silently above. The third door has a little window and leads directly into their roost. I rarely open it, but last night it had swung wide, and I could see the big rooster just inside the door, protecting the hens huddled behind him.

The moon above was so bright I didn't even need my flashlight to make sure the latch was properly closed. I thanked my lucky stars and went to bed.

As the days get shorter, egg production goes down, and we may need to gather some eggs at the market or the store instead. During the worst of the drought I gave my flock winter rations. I didn't see many bugs in the yard and even the weeds were dying. Usually, in summer, they get most of their food through grazing and scratching, and I only supplement their main diet with a scoop of pellets.

The recent rain has brought back some of the bugs and even birds to the yard, but the chickens still descend on their daily ration like dinosaurs before they begin their rounds of scratching all day.

The two little teacup chickens, my Seramas, still live in the aviary. I let them out in the morning and they spend their day on the eastern side of the yard, only occasionally mixing with the other chickens, and usually only with the three pullets hatched in June, who are on the low end of the pecking order.

The Seramas are mostly white, one with black accents, one with gray. They both seem to be little cockerels, though I have heard only one of them crow. They have a very erect posture — a trait of their breed — and walk with a smooth movement so that their tall white tails look like sails on little boats, skiffing across the yard. I begin to daydream about next spring's hatch in my new incubator: a dozen Seramas and a dozen turkeys.

We'll need to get a second coop for the Seramas and figure out some housing for the turkeys. I've been looking longingly into my neighbor's yard over east when I drive by. They pasture a nice flock of heritage turkeys who seem to shelter in a low, shed-like structure at night. I'll research coop designs and be ready to set the eggs in the spring.

The quince on the little tree west of the house is turning yellow, the gentle fuzz on the fruits rubbing off. I picked the largest, yellowest ones to put in a bowl in the kitchen. Quince is gently aromatic and a subtle rosy scent rises. I catch a whiff of it when I walk through the kitchen.

I used to peel Quince and core it and slice it to bake with sugar and orange slices. It turns pink and translucent, but the fruit is stony, and peeling and coring it is difficult.

This year I quartered it with a butcher knife and parboiled it to run through my strainer to make butter. It's thicker than apple or pear butter and doesn't need a second cooking. It's not as sweet, either. I made one batch alone and one mixed with apples and pears.

The autumn still holds plenty to harvest and I'm hoping the first frost will hold off for another few days so I can attend to the green tomatoes on the vine.

Sail in beauty; harvest peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. In the fall she gets a little obsessed with making fruit butter and with knitting. You can read more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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