Michael Perry: Keeping the chickens for now
Last week after a run of heavier postings I promised I’d write something about chickens. Now they are right across the yard there, holding me to it. I would like to think I am in their good graces, having just two days ago put them on fresh grass, including some rapeseed plants sprung up between the thistle and foxtail. I sowed the rapeseed this spring with all good intentions only to see the quack and pigweed blow up and smother it. Mid-summer I brush-hogged the whole bunch, so the resurgent succulents are a sweet late-season surprise. The chickens have already pecked them down to spines.
I’ve also been tossing windfall apples into the run, a tricky proposal this time of year as most of the fruit —especially the apples gnawed by deer — is infested with worker wasps. The “worker” element of their job description completed for the season and with nothing on the to-do list but die, the wasps spend their last sunshiny days sucking cider from the source. This is called making the best of a bad situation. It looks like B-roll for a death metal video. You don’t want a handful of it.
So: For the fowl, fresh peckings. But if you wait for gratitude from a chicken you will wait a while, and this morning it was nothing but the usual flap and hustle when I loosed them from the coop. They bailed straight for the feed buckets with nary a nod. One of the roosters crowed and tried to hustle a hen who simply wanted breakfast, a rolling exhibition of the usual male inanities wrapped in feathers.
We’ve discussed dispensing with the poultry. We’ve kept a flock from the first spring we moved to this old farm and we treasure the eggs, but lately there has been some generational gear-shifting and talk of spending time in other places, and although it is now possible to raise and lower a chicken door via the web and our neighbor Denny is ever graciously available, animal husbandry was never intended to be conducted by remote even if alls you got is a few raggedy birds. Lots of times lately life would just run more smoothly without them. We’ll see.
Down there past the coop I ran the brush-hog wide around a couple of big milkweed patches, left them to stand. We’ve done that all around the place, and this summer there were monarch butterflies everywhere. Somewhere the earth is keeping score and certainly our milkweed will not be enough to win the game but I’d like to think we’re at the very least making up for those I’ve killed with my minivan, hello culpability on wheels. The world is complex. Not so the mind of a chicken. For now we’ll keep them, if only for the tether they provide to a world in need of more eggs and more butterflies. Tomorrow I will again move them to fresh pasture, possibly let them in among the milkweed now that the monarchs have flown.