Early Bird

I slip out of bed in the dark.  It’s 6:30 AM and I’m ready to go.  I tip-toe past the second bedroom where, this week at least, one of our exhausted kids sleeps.  I switch on the stairway light and descend, breathing in Ruby’s sometimes-acrid night scent which floats up through the wood slats from her stairwell cubby.  Ruby is not a morning dog.  She looks askance at me as I pass by, not budging.

Ruby in her hidey hole

What is the one thing you must have on a farm?  An early bird, a morning person to get up and start the coffee and the fire in the wood stove, let the cat out of the hut, fetch the newspaper and most important, open the chicken coop.  On our farmlet, that’s me.

I’m not an Extreme morning person.  That would be the Bearded One’s farmer parents and his rancher brother, folk who are excited about a full breakfast with meat at the crack of dawn.  The Bearded One is not this.  He is, in fact, an Extreme night person, a night owl as opposed to a lark.  The chicken is on the lark’s schedule.

It's 4:30 pm and the chickens have just settled into bed when I come and bother them and take their picture. This is when I can hold them! They're helpless and can't see in the dark. We've switched the all-night heat bulb in the chicken coop from the red-lensed one to a ceramic heat bulb, which uses less watts and doesn't disrupt the light/dark sleep cycle. Kimber was going to bed at 2 in the afternoon for a few days, and all the chicks seemed edgy. The ceramic bulb is a great find.

Chickens need 14 hours of light to lay eggs, so farmers often supplement these short winter days with white lights on a timer.  We’ll probably be there in a couple of months, but for now all the chicks are just 12 weeks old and Kimber hasn’t even weaned her brood yet.  With no adult rooster around, it’s not exactly clear that she’s going to.

The Five, as we call the full-sized breeds we got most recently, sleep on the top roost.  When they go to bed at night, they jostle for position.  The prime spot is the center, and Leah, the little Rhode Island Red, will crawl right over the top of any of the others to claim it every night.  She is most often flanked by the two Wyandottes, Danielle and Anna.  Jane and Cheetah, the Ameraucanas who are as big as Kimber now, anchor the ends.  Although sometimes Jane makes it into an inner spot, Cheetah never does.  She is the biggest chicken we have, but she lacks personal power.

Kimber and the Seven Chicks, including the only two obvious roosters, Steve and Tux, all cram into one or sometimes now two nest boxes, and it’s lights out.

Now, a mere fourteen hours later, here I am, walking up the hill in my coat and boots.  It’s darkish but getting light fast.  I can hear Garfield back at the house, meowing loudly to be let in so he can wake everyone else up.  It’s not quite sunrise, but a few chickens peep from inside the coop when I open the poultry palace gate.

I open the big doors and the chickens all fly out of bed, like the solid morning creatures they are.  I check their food and water and throw them handfuls of corn and chunks of cabbage plant.

Then I will head back to the house, and the day’s cooking.  Bread, chili, and a couple of pies for the freezer.  The 30-pound tom turkey has been defrosting in the refrigerator since Saturday.  Momma Goose is teaching me her cooking method.  There could be 13 guests!  So much to do.

Defrost the bird in the fridge for several days, then the day before cooking, unwrap it and soak it in an ice chest with a cool salt/sugar brine  — 1 cup each of salt and sugar per 5 gallons of water — for about a day.  Cook it covered with foil overnight at 250, then uncover it and turn the oven up to brown it off in the morning.  “The brining keeps away the bacteria, enhances the natural flavor, and keeps the bird really moist,” Momma Goose wrote me in an email, sent at 6 AM.

I close the gate and breathe deeply.  Good morning, world!  I am a fulfilled and happy and grateful woman with a home and a beloved family, who are all coming here in a matter of days.  Hours, actually.  What fabulous luck, I tell myself.  I have everything planned.

I turn the petcock on the garden hose and spray the bottoms of my boots to guard against any hint of chicken poop.  Then I call for Garfield, who has usually bounded across my path by now.  He doesn’t respond.  I tromp up the deck steps to the cat condo, and the specter of Garfield with his own feast.  A meaty breakfast just before dawn, brought right to our door as a gift for the morning person.

Garfield eats breakfast chipmunk


5 responses to “Early Bird

  1. The neverending circle of life, from the day/night circle to the chipmunk feeding the cat. I felt like I was taking every step with you, and I love it! You have such a wonderfully rich life, Christi. I enjoy reading and sharing it with you! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Tell everyone I said hello and I’m sending my best wishes! I hope to talk to you soon. XOXOXO oh, and enjoy Frankenturkey! ❤

  2. Christine Widman

    Happy Thanksgiving!
    We have a full B&B breakfast which we make family style – holiday elegant on Thanksgiving day.
    Our table this morning has a couple from England who now live in the U.S. – a couple from India who now live in the U.S. – a couple from Maryland whose daughter is feasting at our table with them/she lives here in Tucson – and a couple from Wisconsin.
    Our “kids” are creating their own kinds of feasts this year – in NYC, in Waikiki, in Flagstaff, & in Seattle. They were brought up with huge festive food, family, friends, conversation, & games on every holiday so they are well equipped to create those kinds of memories for their own adult lives.
    Still it is odd without them all here around our 42 year old German handcrafted dining room table.
    As I pondered with you recently…The migration of humans all over the planet since the beginning of mankind.
    I’m so glad you will have your three to enjoy on this day of thankfulness.
    I love this day set aside for counting all our many blessings.
    You are one of mine.

  3. I am spending a lovely HOT afternoon catching up on your farmlet stories, chuckling about racoons, chickens and guitar love songs. Thank you for sharing it all!
    My knowledge of raising chickens is small although we plan on starting our own next spring. I patted myself on the back during your last post since I did know that chickens can fly. But now I am stumped when you talk about ‘weaning the chicks’. What does that mean?
    Martha :o)

    • Hi Martha! It’s funny because at first I thought, what in the world DID I mean?! It’s been a year since we had layer (versus fryer/meat bird) chicks, and there is no weaning with the meat birds since they come without a mother from the hatchery. What I meant was that the layer chicks kept sleeping in the nest long after they were ready to go on the roost. They pooped in the nest, etc. so the Bearded One and I had to keep transferring them onto the roost. They figured it out eventually. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. Thanks a bunch for the reply. If I had just read on, you explained it all in the Weanus Interruptus post. So much to learn!

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