Letter from Birdland: Scatter principle yields eggs

Letter from Birdland: Scatter principle yields eggs

They say that cold times are moving in, and in Birdland, we are preparing for it. I've been raking leaves to put into the chicken yard for the wintertime deep litter, and Michael came home with the white tarps to cover the coop. My husband is the practical one, always thinking ahead.

Today is sunny and warm — I'm raking without a jacket — but we can't count on that for long. This weekend, we'll wrap the coop like a package. Transparent sections in the roof and the white tarp will let in enough sun that we can keep the flock inside on the windiest days, but they spend a lot of the winter scratching in the yard.

The hens have stopped laying for now. A few weeks ago, the supply dwindled to one every few days, and now I can't remember the last time I found a warm egg in the nest box. Custard making will have to wait until the light begins to come back.

My hens usually begin laying again soon after the solstice. We all need a rest now and then. The pullets I bought about a month ago are almost ready to leave their basement brooder. We'll carry the whole box up to the coop and turn on their light as soon as we winterize, letting them get used to the flock before we spring them into the coop.

Michael has already plugged in the electric pad to keep the water from freezing. Oh, we will have dozens of eggs in the spring. We'll grow fat on custard and Nanny's purple eggs.

Today, I'm taking advantage of sunny warmth to do outdoor chores: gather broken limbs and branches from around the yard to toss onto my mulch pile in the corner meadow; turn the compost drums, adding red worms to the mix to help it make rich humus; pausing to throw the ball for Ursula to chase.

It's almost, but not quite, warm enough to hang the load of laundry I have tumbling around in the washer.

I go in to get the crock of kitchen scraps to toss to the chickens. It's full of apple cores, carrot peelings, egg shells, the stub ends of Brussel's sprouts, unpopped popcorn kernels and stumps of cabbage and lettuces.

The chickens hear the door open. They recognize the crock and come running. Ursula, the crafty black Lab, also notices, and she comes over, feigning indifference, but I know better. She is waiting for me to set the crock on the ground, so she can gorge herself. She reminds me of Ezekiel's goats.

Oh Ursula, is it not enough that you have already fed on expensive kibble? Must you trample the chickens' little patch too? Because you misuse your strength and bulk, shouldering with your flank, plundering the poultry's meal, butting them with your nose, until you have driven them away, I shall save the flock with a more fair distribution method.

Instead of letting you access the trough, hoping that once you have eaten your fill, the others can feed on your leavings, I shall ensure that everybody gets some by scattering the scraps to all. Instead of trusting that you, having filled your belly, will somehow remember your smaller friends, or that the plenty you grab will "trickle down" to feed them all so that they may lay their treasured eggs, I shall broadcast the scraps, and each member will flock to different corners, gathering what their bellies can hold. Ursula, you will get your portion, but so will they. Everyone will get their fair share, and we will all have eggs in the spring.

I toss my kitchen scraps in a wide arc, once, twice, three times. Billeena, the tawny banty hen with the black tail runs to one side, and Miss Blanca Herringbone and Betty chase the other direction.

Ursula doesn't know which way to run, but she soon scarfs down an apple core (her favorite) and then trots over to sniff where Blanca has been scratching up popcorn kernels. Oh, Ursula is not a bad sort, but she is hardwired to be selfish.

Rosabell, the turkey hen, comes right up and pecks her beak on the empty crock. It makes a clicking noise, and Ursula looks up. She trots over to me, and I relent, putting the empty crock down for her to lick.

Scatter beauty; broadcast peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She has borrowed language and sentence structure from Ezekiel 34 and wishes that the authors of the tax bill would do the same. You can follow Birdland on Twitter (@BirdlandLetters) and Instagram (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Environment, Pets