I’m up on a ladder scrubbing the walls for painting when the Bearded One says, on his way out the door, “Oh, remind me to tell you a chicken story.”
Usually I write everything down, but I can’t write right now. I express interest, but also a touch of irritation at this burden, and say “Oh, goodie,” which I don’t think he heard, which I’m glad for. His chicken stories are always good, and he’s had a lot of them to remember lately.
The other reason I feel bad for my slightly bitchy “oh-goodie” is that the Bearded One fears for me up on ladders. He is an ex-litigator who still sees disaster everywhere, but especially on ladders. Perhaps he is thinking of the half-dead squirrel Garfield trotted into the house with this week, and how this would affect me 16 feet up. He knows my hip’s been bugging me. Perhaps this is his unconscious Scheherazade (pronounced Shuh-hera-zod) strategy to keep me extra careful, promising me a chicken story if I stay alive just as the Persian queen promised the king the conclusion of her stories the next day so he didn’t behead her. Anyway, he leaves the house pronto so as not to distract me.
I finish cleaning the west wall of the living room and look out the window up at the aviary where the Bearded One is working. He’s been there for days now, and he’s had a steady stream of chicken tales. Again, we never knew they had personalities. The chickens have been crazy this week.
Layers need 14 hours of light to stimulate the pituitary gland inside their eyes, which sends a hormone to the ovary with the message to produce an egg. We’re losing five minutes of daylight a day and are under 12 hours now. The hens will stop laying for the winter soon if left alone.
The eggs have already tapered off, but our ten hens still give us a couple of dozen a week. We want to continue that, so we just started supplementing their light for 3 hours (using a timer) in the evenings. This is tricking Mother Nature, which I don’t usually like, but that’s what it takes. It doesn’t hurt them, but it’s an adjustment and must be contributing to their antics this week.
Yesterday the Bearded One was alone in the barn and heard a clucking and generalized chicken bitchin’. Chickens are not allowed in the barn because they’ll foul the goat’s hay, but the littlest banty we have, Dusty, had wedged under the door and was nesting in the new corner goat feeder.
Cheetah went to the same spot the day before, but she snuck into the barn when I was raking out the spent hay and hauling it to the new gravity-fed chicken compost run, also known as the Chute. The hens and goats are doing a great job of turning it as it makes its way down the hill. I came back to close up the barn and there was Cheetah nestled down into Sage’s hay.
Our ten layers are all just over a year old except Kimber, the mama banty who came to us as a wild hen with seven 3-day-old chicks. We still have four of those chicks — Dusty, Marilyn, Spot and Stevie. (We sold the two roosters at auction back in January when they were five months old. And we think a raccoon got Blackie.) Kimber has been having an extra irritable week, and drove her daughter Stevie to the outside roost with her pecking. Dusty refused to perch next to her mother, choosing instead to climb onto Jane and Cheetah’s backs.
Maybe it’s the full moon making the chickens act weird. Native Americans call this particular full moon the Fruit Moon because of the falling apples, and we’ve actually got a lovely crop of red Spartan apples to be harvested.
The tree is four years old now, and this is its first real crop. I plan to put the apples in waterproof plastic containers in the root cellars.
I step down from the ladder, and can see the Bearded One kneeling on the trail beside the smaller root cellar, patting wet cement into safety steps in the hillside where he saw me slip recently.
When he comes in, I tell him I love him and that I’m sorry if my oh-goodie hurt his feelings. I tell him I was very careful on the ladder, and I ask to hear the chicken story.
He tells me that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about but is very glad I was careful, and that here’s the story. Leah, the Rhode Island Red and boss of the chicken yard, even over Kimber, saw him in the aviary and came hauling across the upper pasture toward him. “Awwwkkkk!! Brrkkk-brkkkkkkk–brrkkkkk–Awwwwkkkk!”
She then stopped and flapped her wings, and bobbed up and down repeatedly in a pattern, which impressed the Bearded One as some sort of never-before seen mating dance. She kept it up and grew more frantic and insistent, and the Bearded One knew that she wanted something.
He looked closer, and her dance movement — like fake pecking — drew him toward a point of focus hidden in the middle of the pasture.
“It was a banty egg,” he said, laughing. “She was calling me over to find it.”
I make eye contact with the Bearded One, put down my scrub rag, take off my rubber gloves, and give him the most coquettish chicken dance he’s seen in some time. It worked for Scheherazade. Heck — it worked for the chicken.