As long as I’ve had livestock, no matter how cozy, how dry and warm, how peaceful the atmosphere inside, some part of my awareness stays out on the range.
I feel this especially in late spring when the lambs are out on pasture, and in the dead of night, a coyote yowls half a mile away.
I feel this in winter too, when the temperature plummets from single digits to negative digits, and I feel it particularly this winter with its spate of [vehement expletive] double-digit negatives, plus wind.
So in January, instead of fretting and handwringing about the prone chickens, we integrated. One old screen door, plus on- hand turkey wire, plus a coupla extra 2x6s, even a spare hook and eye, and, shazam—we had ourselves a basement coop.
Then, when every last heat molecule skedaddled and the Polar Vortex ravished us, we went all went to bed content: three floors of heartbeats—the humans on top, the pets next down, and five chickens in the hold.
At last I relaxed. And for two weeks we cohabitated pretty happily.
This basement apartment marked yet another address for our gypsy chickens. Born in an Ohio hatchery, they traveled as day-old chicks to Guy’s Farm and Yard in Morrisville, VT, where we fetched them last summer. We brought them home in a cardboard box to their new life a big plastic bucket, and then a packing crate, and then at last they moved to a hutch I built from scratch (and scraps) ten years ago.
Finally with winter’s onset they migrated to a hay-lined bunker in the barn, and when the way, way below zero temps bore down, they moved again, becoming our Hens-in-Residence.
All was fine and well until they began laying their first eggs. (Though talk about “local” and “fresh!”) It was wonderful to go “down cella” and come up with enough for an omelet. However the hens’ egg-laying vocalizations, which can waver from an amusing “cluck cluck” to a grating oh-just-make-it-stop on the listening spectrum, induced us to move them back to their former habitat once the weather gentled.
This morning as I refilled their water bowl, and doled out grain, and scattered carrot peels, they seemed chipper. One was on the roost, one was on the nest and three were roving their hay- strewn place. But I think in their pea-size mind, they know this is only temporary, and they won’t be surprised when, oh boy, they make yet another move in the spring.