25 August 2009

barn notes : hen house

In my teenage years I probably wouldn't have admitted that I lived on a small farm in East Central Minnesota close to the Wisconsin border. There were times (when I was in grade school) when summer break meant that I didn't go into town (unless it was for the carnival) for weeks at a time. 

My brother and sister and I - "we"- spent all our time playing with the neighbor kids, which included a tangle of first and second cousins who lived up and down the road. We built forts, swam in the creek, caught frogs, tamed feral kittens, swung from tree branches, ran wild, sang campfire songs, played "ghost around the house." 

The farm was our playground. I can remember climbing fences and skipping across the pasture. Scampering up trees when we saw the bull. Creating secret societies with our imaginations. Societies that included intricate forts built in the underbrush, secret handshakes, and, of course, "us against them"

The "us" was usually the girls, and the "them" was almost always the boys.

Anyway, there were always cows and cats around the farm, the occasional farm dog, but never chickens or egg-laying hens. A lot has changed since then. I couldn't imagine my parents' farm now without the chickens. 

I've become a bit of a naturalist when it comes to our chickens. There definitely is a hierarchy to chicken behavior. A pecking order, so to speak. They don't just jump off the nest and shriek for no reason. 

Here's what I've noticed. The roosters prance around and trumpet most of the morning. They toodle-dee-doo at the quality of light, passing cars and wandering humans. They toodle-dee-doo at doors and car wheels, the shadows of hawks gliding overhead and empty water buckets. 

The hens are always clucking, always pecking at the ground. Their gooble-dee-gucks start in the hen house. Whenever they lay an egg they explode off the nest with a fury of goobles. I think they're bragging, announcing their accomplishment. A warm egg in pale turquoise blue resting next to another the color of hammered copper. 

Out of the six nesting boxes built into the hen house wall one is the favorite, vied after by all. One is always filled with a rainbow of eggs, a pleasure to collect. An inspiration every day. 

Whatever the case, I can always tell what type of egg day it's going to be by the volume of noise down at the hen house. 

Sounds like we'll be having omelets tonight. 

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