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The sky is falling not



These are the salad days for the chickens out in our neck of the woods. Green shoots are pushing out of the earth everywhere, most of them edible.

What's not to celebrate? Days getting longer is the main thing. The chickens' solar timers just kicked in and I'm finding five or six eggs in their soft straw nests every day. Seems like they are always hungry.

Most of our flock turn one year old next month, around the first day of spring. The ag people say that means fewer eggs a week, but they'll be bigger. The chickens must have been reading the same textbook, because we got our first double-yolker in years last week. It was as big as a baseball!

Chickens have been all over the news lately. Mostly they just want to get along. Sure, they'll put up with a stuck-up rooster if they have to, but they can do without him. Just means there's more greens and scratch grains to go around. We don't keep roosters any more. Where chickens embrace routine, roosters strut around like the terrorists have won. Those talons came at me once too often.

A chicken, on the other hand, just wants simple gifts. For a bowl of fresh water, a few leftover veggies or a handful of clover, she'll give you a perfect egg with the orange-est yolk in town. My girls get so excited when they see the compost bucket, they line up at the coop window, taking turns pushing to the head of the line. Last week, the favorite treats were Clementine rinds, old corn on the cob and freezer-burned hot dog rolls. A neighbor farmer gave them half a crate of past-prime heads of cabbage. They don't turn anything down, to tell you the truth.

Our coop has a pair of 5-gallon steel watering cans, a round feeder tray on top of an old tree stump and a funky row of tucked-in, cool, dark nesting boxes. Chickens play a kind of musical chairs game at laying time. They walk up a wooden ladder and lay their eggs in the morning, and I am convinced they each have a favorite nest. The thing about it is this: We have five nests and eight chickens. If two or three chickens want the same nest at the same time, the insistent squawking gets loud. Not ugly, just loud. On the weekends, I'll rush over to make sure it's not a black snake or a curious raccoon bothering them. Quite a racket sometimes, but they work it out.

Pecking-order politics: A man knows when not to interfere.

On his last radio show, Bob Dylan was talking about cats. Everything Bob says is deep. In his raspy voice, he dryly commented, "If cats could talk, they wouldn't." Same goes for chickens. They know their eggs more than cover the rent, no need to go too far into quality-of-life issues. Keep that big dog away, keep the greens coming, make sure there's plenty of cracked corn on hand (some for the mice and birds, too) and change the straw every so often.

Spend enough time around poultry and you learn better not to ask why they want to cross the road anyhow.

See also: "Durham says yes to backyard chickens"

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