The Blessing

Three goats lay in the hay on the barn floor, chewing their cud, while nine hens cluck around them.

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The hens love the barn in the winter for the light from the clear plastic roof, and I’m watching them while the Bearded One is over checking the rat traps on top of the chicken coop.

LaLa chews side-to-side with his back molars.  I can see the clean white row of front bottom teeth and then he stops, pauses … as if he’s heard something.  He swallows, and a lump the size of an egg travels down his throat.  Leah flaps and pecks the hay.  LaLa ignores her, burps up another wad of hay which I watch travel up his neck, and then he starts chewing, side-to-side, again.

clean barn and moulting Leah 007

Leah is at the end of her moult, and is less scraggly than she has been.  So is Sweet Tart.  Moulting hens don’t lay, but I am pondering the fact that none of our hens is laying.  We had a tiny fraction of our usual eggs in September and no eggs for the entire month of October.

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Hens need fourteen hours of light to lay eggs, and right now, in mid-October, on the 47th Northern Parallel (that’s north of Toronto and Montreal, Canada), we have about ten.  Plus the sun is low in the sky and blocked half that time by surrounding forest.

So we’ve started extending their light exposure by leaving a light bulb on for a couple of hours at both ends of the day — as we did last year with success.  They seem to just sleep right through the added light.  We hope to get the gals laying again soon.

I know I could drive into Gig Harbor and get a dozen eggs, but my seeming snobbery about the wonderfulness of our own home-grown eggs has become considerable.

Eggs aren’t essential, for heaven’s sake.  I love to bake cakes and cookies, and the Bearded One likes eggs for breakfast once a week or so.  We are mainly oatmeal folk now, to the Bearded One’s slow acceptance over time.  Still, we’ve had so many fresh beautiful eggs these past two years, we’re a bit spoiled.

“Please start laying again, Ladies,” I say.

*   *   *

The Bearded One is over in the aviary (the chicken coop is inside the aviary) up on a ladder and shouts good news from the site of the rat traps — no birds, no rats, no rat droppings — and then he gets buzzed by a bird coming down the ladder and yells, “Whoa!  There’s a blue jay in here!”

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Garfield has noticed this also and as I approach, I see him climbing the corner post of the aviary.  A small Stellar’s Jay — powerfully, vividly blue with a black head — flutters around Garfield’s pole, panicking, even though Garfield can’t get to her.  The jay gets caught in the chicken wire reinforcement about halfway up the wall of wire and is flapping hard but making no progress.  Birds usually get into and out of the aviary with no trouble.  This bird seems young.

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“Get some gloves first!” shouts the Bearded One. Garfield has leaped up onto the wire just below the ever-more panicked bird.  She must be stuck.  I run back to the barn for the gloves, because wild birds and bare hands aren’t a good mix, and when I return, Garfield is like a horror movie showing against the aviary wall, glaring at the jay, vocalizing furiously.  The bird is wild now.  A bluejay tornado.

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I reach up and down between the overlapped layers of fencing and pull the bird out, sacrificing some underbelly fluff and feathers.  I don’t know if her wings or legs have been hurt.

Garfield has made his way back along the edge of the aviary, so I walk the other direction to the gate post.  I set the jay on the top of the post and let go.

Immediately she flaps hard and flies off to the northeast, the same direction as the trapped owl I released back in the spring.  Both times it feels like a blessing on this place flown in from deep in the forest.  I gasp with relief that she’s not hurt, with the thrill of touching her small body, and with the sight of her escape.  No more cats for her. I smile.

As if on cue, seven hens in a tight bunch come marching around the main gate and into the aviary all at once.  Straight into the chicken coop.  Maybe we’ll see some eggs tonight.

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21 responses to “The Blessing

  1. I just had to go to Google images to see what a blue jay looks like…beeootiful! You are a bluejay hero :). Do you have any Wyandotte girls (chooks)? They are an American breed apparently and tend to lay right through the winter. Ours do, and we have very short days here through winter. Might not be a bad idea to get a few to supplement your egg habit ;). I have just added oatmeal back into my breakfast routine. I spent all yesterday being productive and making things and realised at 11am that I hadn’t had breakfast yet so simmered some cut up pumpkin and oatmeal and had autumnal oatmeal for lunch whilst stirring a pot of lemon butter. I have a mountain of gifted lemons and my marmalade and lemon butter “event” haven’t dented them much. Trying to think of what to do with them all aside from juicing them. I did consider making preserved lemon peel but my preserved orange peel event has a quart jar of solid toffee littered with orange peel that I have NO idea what to do with ;). I guess I can leave it to one of my kids in the will… Love the way that autumn is wrapping its arms around you. Spring has grabbed me by the ankles and is shaking me upside down! I think I prefer your autumn, wish I could share a cup of tea next to your fire and a lovely long chat that extended into the night. Just imagine what we two could cook up together. I made Chinese steamed buns with braised Chinese vegetables and a steamed chocolate pudding with custard for Steve last night. The poor E.P. it would be “I am just one man!” all over again ;).

  2. My yes – such a blessing! What a wonderfully vivid peek into your life ….. LaLa ruminating, chickens moulting, BO up a ladder and Garfield stalking – all busy doing what they’re doing and life is just so very – delightful!
    Thank you Christi, your weekly posts are so looked forward to and enjoyed 🙂

  3. I am building a coop this weekend! I cannot wait to have fresh eggs! I am sure yours will return soon!

    • Oooo, good luck with the construction and welcome to the club of us spoiled-forever egg eaters who have had fresh eggs from uncaged hens. 🙂 And thanks for the good wishes on ours.

  4. I love the determined way Danielle is heading towards that pile of hay and the way Lala? is looking at her 😀 Such a pretty bird is the Jay. Good luck with those cackleberries also 😀 There really is no comparison between cage and free range eggs.

    • Cackleberries!! I have never heard that term, wondered, and googled, and what a fun discovery — eggs! 🙂 You can be sure I’m going to use my new word very soon. LaLa is the black goat. I’m not sure who Danielle is looking at….chickens are like that sometimes. No eggs today, but surely by this weekend.

  5. Great Blog! Hope you get some cackle berries soon….love the term…so that would mean Cackle berry on toast? Cackle berries over easy? And, Larry and I hopefully win the Easter Cackle berry toss each year 🙂 Hugs to you and all the farmlet critters xoxo

    • The big news today — there was an egg in the corner nest box yesterday evening! We didn’t hear the cackle. It’s a little berry, one of the banties, and we whooped and celebrated and cackled. Hugs back to you, Leslie. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the great post, Christi! Life is delightful! I hope you get some eggs soon! 🙂

  7. I’m still catching up with blogreading. This is great! Love your goats and chooks, not to forget Garfield and the Wild Bunch 😉 and the drawings are so delightful!! Glad the horror movie ended well . . .

    That’s the best pic of a Stellar’s jay I’ve seen yet. It’s the official provincial bird of B.C. and I love them.

    Like you and Narfie7, I’m back to oatmeal, too, usually with butter and salt in the Scottish style.

  8. Christine Widman

    Ahhhh…the domestic drawing of the goats in the hay with the hens clucking around them.
    Here we have been so B&B busy that I started my Wednesday with your blog and only now have had time to reply.
    Your blog set me thinking about light and temperatures.
    My favorite part of my Iphone is the weather icon.
    I have it set to the places all over the map where our “kids” are.
    Temps are fascinating.
    Today:
    Honolulu high 84 low 72…NYC high 64 low 50…Seattle high 61 low 46…Flagstaff high 63 and at this moment it is 21…and here is Tucson high 84 low 48.
    I’m been wondering if – even with the extreme temps daily here – hens would lay because of the sun???? As it’s sunny every day all day long.
    I hope your hens are laying soon.
    I love jays. Here we have the Mexican Jay. When I was young and staying at my grandparents house in Iowa, I loved the rasp and quarrel of the blue jay. In the NW the stellar jay is magnificent.
    I felt the grace of birds as you released your frightened stellar jay.
    I think you need a little St Francis of Assisi statue on your farmlet. We have one here as we so love the animals that bless our property.
    I think you carry his benevolent spirit towards all creatures great and small.
    Hugs always,
    C

    • The light issue is fascinating, I agree. I don’t think it has to be sunny, just light. And I don’t know if hens lay in the extreme heat. Like over 100 degrees F. We never get that here. We ended up with 3 eggs last week, though. 🙂 And we do have a St. Francis of Assisi statue! Ha! The guy who built the house in 1991 and lived here for 16 years left it. The B.O. has put it away, however. It smacks of institutional religion to him, and he’s not too much for institutional religion. I like it, but not so much as to make it an issue. lol But thanks for the idea. 🙂 Hugs and love, cmg

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