Tuesday, December 6, 2011


IN BIRDLAND WE'VE BEEN SPOILED WITH THE MILD WEATHER. Yes, it's damp. Yesterday it rained the whole dang day. We went ahead and turned the furnace on, but it hasn't been cold enough yet, to warrant a fire in the wood stove. If we light a fire when it's above 30 degrees, we roast, and have to open windows to compensate. This is just as well, since we haven't yet replenished the wood pile for the winter. We have dipped a little into the frost zone, a couple of times, and the peonies, tomatoes, and most of the chrysanthemums are now brown and dried, waiting to be trimmed away to make room for next year's growth. The asparagus is a feathery bush of gold, and I need to cut that down too, and burn it, to keep the patch disease free. This year the wild asparagus that came up volunteer in the old pony pasture did much better than the tame asparagus by the grape arbor, so I want to make sure to tend to that patch, especially. 


Earlier sundown means I drive home just before dusk, when the sky is still glowing but the earth is dark. I love the silhouettes of the farm-scape against the still bright sky, clouds and jet trails painted by the sunset. This is also chicken dark, and I have to hurry if I want to coop all the birds. About half the flock meekly follows the old rooster into the coop, clucking and scratching on the way. The others like to perch high in the apple tree, and look down over the aviary. They are getting picked off one by one. A few nights ago we lost another lovely Maran pullet. I counted one fewer in the morning, and found only her wing at the foot of the tree, spread like a beautiful fan with a deep brown pattern, a stump of bloody bone at the base. I used to hose the renegades out of the tree and shoo them into the safety of the coop, but now they perch higher up, out of my range, so yesterday before I let them out in the morning I clipped their wings, and not just figuratively. I grabbed my shears and went into the aviary, grabbing those who usually roost in the trees (mostly the bantams, which are lighter and can fly higher). Of course the old rooster didn't like me bothering his hens one bit, kicking me and stabbing at my legs with his sharp spur. I grabbed him and tossed him outside so I could attend to my chore.
He regained his dignity and began circling the aviary in concern, trying to get back in to rescue his fair ladies, as I grabbed them one at a time, and clipped their wings. You only need to clip the primary feathers on one wing; the resulting imbalance makes them incapable of effective flight (not that a chicken's flight is all that effective in the first place, but some of mine can clearly fly pretty well). They can still use their unbalanced wings to augment a jump of a few feet into the roosting tree in the aviary, but the tip top of the apple tree is now out of their range. A bird's wing is almost all feather. I wasn't worried about cutting flesh, but you do have to take care not to cut too low on the feather itself. First, check the underside of the wing to make sure the quill is white, not dark, almost black. A feather is living tissue and when it's growing, the quill is full of blood. The cutting, itself, is no problem if you can catch a chicken and stabilize the wing. I used my old hair cutting scissors. It was a windy day, and as I clipped a line of feathers from each bird, the wind swirled them around in the coop. It was like being inside a snow globe, multicolored feather tips swirling around me, then getting blown up against the chicken wire. It made a pretty picture against the brown, fall day. I finished my task and then opened the door to release them into the yard. The rooster checked them carefully and I watched them run toward their station under the lilac bush, to begin their job of scratching, picking, grooming, and carefully turning over mulch. 

I stood for a few minutes, enjoying the wind and the day and the now calm murmur of contented chickens scratching in the yard. Then I went inside to get ready for work.

Walk in Beauty, Work in Peace, Blessed Be.

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