“Get a pencil,” our neighbor Momma Goose says. “Write this down.” We’re on the phone, and I rush to the kitchen table and my paper piles — including garden plans, stacks of last year’s seed packets, and the name of a generator man our new pressure tank installer heavily advised me to write down.
One of the reasons Momma Goose called was to ask for our old metal water pressure tank. She teaches a welding class where they turn the tanks into smokers, and we’re saving it for her. Since our old chiropractor neighbor Doc Singer died a few years ago, Momma Goose is the smartest person on the road, no question. A skilled country woman. Hentelligence incarnate.
“Okay,” I say and write down the names of two poultry hatcheries I’m to google later on. We’re going in on a meat bird order with her and two other families. Our 30 chicks will arrive in June, and we’ll start buying feed by the ton, apparently, also split by the other families. “Cornish broilers,” she says. “They’ll be ‘straight run’ — boys and girls, not sexed. It’s cheaper.” I write down everything she says, then head up to the barn to tell the Bearded One all I’ve learned.
He’s working on a new chicken roost “ladder” for the coop — his third design. The first one was too short, the second too tall and wide. The current problems are pecking the Styrofoam off the wall, and poop falling on the wall. The new roost will be tall and a foot skinnier (giving us more room to check for eggs…) except for the top rung where the chickens sleep, which will span almost the entire length of the coop, but still be a foot and a half from the wall.
The Bearded One is making the new roost out of young trees he cut down after the goats stripped off lots of the bark for a quick snack.
He laid the trees across two saw horses and enlisted the goat’s help in stripping the bark completely. They do a brilliant job.
I admire all the work and then break the news. “We can’t put the meat chicks in the aviary with the hens,” I say. “They’ll fight and peck each other. We need another pen and a nighttime sleeping structure.”
I continue to talk but the Bearded One, I can see, is thinking, planning, scanning the farmlet for possible sites. I am talking about how much chicken we eat — one a week — and we have a freezer now. We will raise these birds for meat, neither naming nor taming them since we will be harvesting them after just 6-8 weeks. We will do this processing ourselves with Momma Goose’s guidance. We’ll put 25 birds in the freezer, then do it again in September or October, and have a year’s supply. This is my plan. There’s so much to learn, and I know zip.
We watch as our young hens explore the laying nests, lining up on the perch like women at intermission when all five boxes are occupied. They take turns. They shuffle the straw around. They hollow out a space and then sit for a while. Then they do it again. There have been 14 eggs laid since Feb 6.
The Bearded One brought in Stevie’s first egg this week. He had removed it right after she left a nest, so he knew it was hers. It was small and had a smear of blood on it. We both felt the poignancy, the design, the intelligence and beauty.
Suddenly, there’s a ruckus in the aviary. Dusty has been in the favored corner box long enough, it seems, and Blackie has just about had it. They talk. I rush in to see if Dusty laid her first egg. I lift the nest box lid slowly. No. Blackie must have interrupted. The mysteries of Eggology. Maybe the young hens are a little baffled, too, I think, and return to the house and my lists and notes and seed studies.
An hour later the Bearded One sticks his head in the back door and holds out what we take to be Dusty’s first egg. It is perfect — tan and smooth and clean. I whoop and we both smile big. The Bearded One’s boots aren’t clean, he says, so I get up to take the egg.
“Oh,” he adds as he hands the egg to me, “if you get the chance, will you write ‘hose swivel’ on the Ace list?”
“Okay.” I can write it down, add the note to my growing nest of knowledge, and then — well, just sit on it.