Moving Day

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.

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11 responses to “Moving Day

  1. Christine Widman

    My hope every day is for my one unmarried highly creative son to find his true companion.
    So I felt to my marrow the Bearded One’s response.
    Living day to day working side by side with one’s best friend and true companion is a blessing beyond words.
    Even when there are days here at the B&B that I hiss and want to “deposit” my Love into his office. We don’t have a cat.
    (That line absolutely cracked me up, by the way.)
    We had our first monsoon rain last night.
    I heard an immensely loud and rumbling long long thunder crack and knew the rain gods had arrived.
    The unmitigated relief of rain on a parched desert and on a human brain parched from the worry and the watching over of water deprived cactus.
    Today our SW sky looks like a NW sky.
    From this SW girl to you, my NW friend. And to the dear Bearded One.
    Love.
    C

    • Thanks be to the Rain God, Christine, whose true companion, no doubt, is the dessert. He has come to her at last! Love to you and Denny, our role models for working together. 🙂

  2. Rediscovering The Princess Bride and getting to share your own personal love story on the same day has made my heart smile :). I love seeing couples who are obviously in love after “all these years”…Maybe its the beards that make our men so loveable (even when we have almost reached the end of our tethers and are just about to strangle them with our bare hands…). Mine just asked me if I wanted a hot water bottle…”Yes Please Babe” 🙂 now its my turn to feel loved 🙂

  3. That settles it, Fran, I’m getting a hot water bottle.:)

  4. Hi there!

    I love your blog and just finished your Bear Story (after reading The Fava, The Sun, and the Holy Goat.) and I really enjoyed those too (more please?haha)! I am commenting because I am just curious about the meat breed of chickens you have. I don’t intend on raising broilers (I just started raising meat rabbits actually.) I just find them interesting and wondered if you could tell me a bit more about them from your point of view – as I appreciate your views on slow and local food and such. They aren’t GMO to be like that correct? I hope you don’t mind, I don’t want to waste your time. It seems summer is here with us in western Washington – at least for now. I hope your animals fared well if you got the heat we did down by Olympia. Take care!

    • Hi Jordanna, and thanks for reading and commenting! I think you’re the first commentor to mention having read A Bear Tale, too, which makes me smile. Thank you. And to answer your excellent question, the meat birds we have are Cornish Rocks. We get them from http://www.ideal-poultry.com/ which is down in Texas. Our neighbor orders for several of us, “straight run” which means mixed males and females, and it works out to about $1.80/chick. They are bred to be fast growing meat birds. Not GMO, which involves transferring DNA artificially. These Cornish Rocks grow really fast, though, so it seems kind of freakish. This agressive breeding has weakened other parts of their skeleton as a breed, it seems, and they are more prone to bad legs. The factory chickens in the grocery store (unhappy chickens from battery cage lives) often tout the lack of hormones used, which is a distraction (hormones on poultry has been illegal since the 1960s!) from the use of antibiotics and miserable living conditions. Anyway. The way I’m looking at it now, we’ll raise these 27 Cornish birds for 10 weeks. Processing day is set now for August 25, and we just told our neighbor to order us 50 chicks for Sept 1. We’ll process them in November and have enough for our entire year plus many to share with friends and family. So far, we’ve lost 5 birds to some malady. The rest are happily running around in a huge forest pen all day, although they spend a lot of time just sitting, too. Keith calls them lethargic. They’re growing so fast. No bad legs so far. The breed is very different from laying hens, but they are leading good chicken lives, pecking, scratching, dust bathing and running around in the sun…and yes, it was gloriously sunny this weekend here in Western WA!! 🙂

      • Wow. Thanks for your thorough response. It is good to know that it is just through breeding that they get so big so fast. I have egg layers and have for about a year now (we actually just got 12 more pullets and 10 more chicks! Chicken fever? Me thinks yes..) and I thought that they grew fast – I can’t even imagine birds being ready for harvest in 10 weeks. Well besides our ducks maybe. They grow at an incredible rate – our Khaki just hatched out some babes about a month ago and you can literally see the difference over night – their wings are very slow to grow though the girls are at least a foot tall and their wings: only about 1.5 inches long! haha.. Well, I certainly give you major props for choosing this path. We only just got our rabbits and I am still going over it in my mind about whether I am going to be able to let them go for harvest (or our hens after a few years when they are less productive..). I am fine with the butchering of the dead animal – it’s taking the life for my own sustenance that I am still coming to grips with (I was a vegetarian for about 7 or 8 years.). I am looking forward to learning from your experience with it, and getting another look at how another home-grower deals with the ‘costs’ of this life style. Thanks for taking the time to answer my comment. And again, I really enjoyed your writings and was sad to see them done, no pressure, but I would be very happy to read anything else you might write – (hopefully soon?) fiction or not. : ) Blessings.

  5. Sally Showalter

    Love reading the everyday simplicity (hard efforts) of your adventures and how you make them interesting, warm and true.

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