I’m standing in the middle of the brooder with 29 shrieking Cornish Broiler chicks. The Bearded One stands outside the brooder with an open cat carrier. The 3-week-old chicks have outgrown the brooder and it’s time to move them up the hill to their new pen and its 2 new coops.
I release each chick into the cat carrier and the Bearded One guards the door as panicked chicks try furiously to escape. We’ll do this for 5 chicks at a time, six trips in all, carrying the carrier out of the hut, down the deck stairs, past the gardens and through the gate, up the hill, turning left at the barn and then left again into the meat bird pen. We’ve already made this circuit umpteen times, in preparation. I’m not exhausted and irritated yet, but I can feel it coming on. That hill will get you eventually.
“Where’s Garfield?” asks the Bearded One.
Lurking under the stairs. Waiting for us to depart with the first load of chicks, hoping that we leave the hut door open so he can visit the remaining birds.
I climb out of the brooder and notice the thick layer of chicken poop on the bottom of my boots, which is now all over the deck and stairs as I tromp after the cat. The Bearded One does many things, but picking up a cat is rarely one of them.
“You little killer you,” I say as I pick up my kitty, breathe in his fur and ask him for the power to be sweet to the Bearded One who I’m starting to growl at, and deposit him into the house. The cat, that is.
There have been so many preparations for this event, so many meticulous efforts to make it work, that I’m wearing down. The Bearded One is all about carefully thought-out procedures; I want to just jump in and figure it out as I go. He fusses over the sealing ring on the new waterer forever. I fetch olive oil to coat the ring so the waterer will shut down when it’s supposed to. Another trip down and back up the hill.
He fiddles with the feeders and the best available trash can to move to the coop to hold the sacks of feed. If he says, “Not quite yet,” one more time, I just might go postal.
I’m back in the brooder, which smells heavily of ammonia after 3 weeks of accumulated poop from 32 original chicks. Three have died since they arrived at 2 days old on June 14 — no signs of illness. “We can’t interpret much from the bodies,” was the Bearded One’s response when I insisted he look at each dead chick as I discovered it. I was saddened. He surmised the dead chicks flew into the side of the brooder and broke their necks. From watching them, that’s probably right.
Several chicks are clearly roosters. They’re bigger, are all leg and thigh, and run and flap at each other to thump chests. All of these meat bird chicks are as big as some of our year-old banties. I snatch one and right away feel its warm, plump, pebbly poultry skin. It weighs about as much as two oranges. Its head is still covered with yellow fuzz, but the rest of him is mottled with scruffy white feathers and raw, pimply pink skin. He looks like the adolescent that he is.
We keep increasing the number of chicks per load — from 5 to 7 to 8 to 9 = 29. One from the last load races back out and falls down into the brooder, but no harm is done. I insist on carrying the first load up, but my injured hamstring (from the day I used extremely poor judgment and raced the hen Leah up the hill trying to close the upper pasture gate before she followed me in with the whole flock following her) starts hurting and the Bearded One carries the other 3 loads.
Finally they are all in the two new coops running around in the peat moss and huddling under the 100 watt ceramic bulbs.
One of the Bearded One’s preparations was to run an electric cord from the barn, through 2-inch PVC conduit 8 feet in the air (away from the goats’ playful and curious horns) across to the meat bird coops to power these bulbs since we’re still in the low 40s at night.
After lunch on this already long day, the Bearded One cleans the hut — 3 wheelbarrow loads — of wood-pellet litter and hay to the compost…
…and I transplant 3-week-old corn plants and pumpkin plants from the hoop house into the former strawberry garden.
I watch as he carefully cleans my boots with the hose and my heart softens.
“Are we best friends?” I ask him as we head out on a walk together after everything’s done.
“You are my true companion,” he says and reaches for my hand.