Sunday, March 18, 2012


The first out of the door would be
Rufus, the Lionhearted
BIRDLAND HAS BEEN UPSET. We had such a tidy balance. In the mornings, just as the sun was coming up I would carry the big, galvanized scoop full of pellets out to the chicken house. A few steps away from the coop I would stop and spill a small offering to the great dog, Ursa, and then continue on to greet the flock. The first out of the door would be Rufus, the Lionhearted. The big, red rooster with the brave soul. He would rush at Ursa, and she would leave the small pile of grain, and turn tail to retreat to the trunk of the old Maple tree, lest she be thumped by the patriarch of the flock. Ursa used to think it was great fun to grab Rufus by the scruff of the neck and trot around the yard holding him in her mouth. However, once she got acquainted with his spurs she learned to show him more respect. A rooster's spurs are like three inch thorns on the back of his leg. They can somehow jump up and turn their spurs toward the victim to give a sound thumping. If spur meets flesh, there will be blood. Ursula lived to regret her earlier disrespect of the old rooster.
 Once Rufus was satisfied that Ursula would not bother the hens, he would join them in foraging around the yard. He would show them the tastiest treats, keeping a sharp eye on the sky for the hawk who strikes like a silent missile from above. When he saw a shadow circling in the sky he would sound the alarm and everyone would run for the shelter of the lilac, or the cedar tree. In the dark, under the sweeping branches they would all wait until he sounded the all clear.

Rufus was not the only rooster in Birdland, but he was the oldest. Chaucer, the upstart, is only just a year old, and though taller and heavier, he deferred to Rufus. Rufus gained confidence as he gained experience, and Ursa thought it wiser to leave the old fellow alone. 

Now, the door of the coop was secured with a bungie cord, but a curious thing has been happening lately. When I go out in the morning to bring food and carry away eggs, the bungie cord is sometimes missing. This happened a few times, and I didn't think too much of it. Once I found the bright orange cord next to the little pond, but another time I couldn't find it at all and had to replace it. Then one morning I went out to find my little white hen missing, feathers scattered all around the chicken yard. When this happened, we meant to fortify the door with a real latch—not just a bungie cord hooked over a couple of screws—but kept forgetting to pick up the hardware in town.

Of course, you know the end of the story. This morning, when I went out to let the flock out, they were already out, the door hanging wide open. The hens were wandering in two groups, poor Chaucer looking lost was with one of the groups, but instead of keeping a sharp eye on the sky or the field for danger, he was running from one shaded shelter to another. Everyone seemed agitated. Rufus must have put up a good fight. He valiantly defended his flock and his home, but all we could find were his downy, white under-feathers, and they were scattered from one end of the coop to the other.
... scattered from one end of the coop
to the other.
In town tonight, I remembered to stop by the farm store and buy a latch for the door of the coop. They had pens full of day old chicks—Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rock, and Buff Orpingtons. I paused for a moment and watched their various chick activities—sleeping, eating, pecking at the wood chips, pooping. At home we installed the new latch, but the chickens were afraid to go back to the scene of the disaster. At dusk, they circled the coop but wouldn't go in. Eventually, one at a time, they ran across the yard to the aviary, where they brooded as chicks. We opened the door and let them go in while we upended the coop to patch holes underneath and install the new latch. Then, in the dark, we carried them from the aviary back to their newly fortified home.

A year ago we had about 20 chicks. Now we have less than a third of that. When you pasture your chickens you're going to lose some of them. Hawks have to eat, too but it's time to replenish our flock, and I'm thinking—Buff Orpingtons.

Balance Beauty; Measure Peace; Blessed Be.

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