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.
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.
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.