Monday, August 30, 2010

Purification Rites

Cleaned the chicken house this morning before the sun got hot.  It wasn't a particularly gross job--I believe in a high bird-to-bedding ratio--but it was horrendously dusty.  All that pecking and scratching and fluffing the hens do all day long, week after week, just pulverizes the hay, and the dried manure eventually turns to dust as well.  I put a scarf over my hair, and considered wearing a dust mask.  It would have protected my lungs, but might have made me pass out from overheating. 

I clean the chicken house twice a year--in between I just add more hay as needed.  The fall cleanings go on the garden after the last vegetable has been picked.  By spring they will be ready to mix into the soil, to feed the new crops.  Thus, as I shoveled today my thoughts were on next year's garden.  Chickens and compost and gardens are things outside time.  They just go round and round in an endless cycle.

I did the job soon after breakfast, and as it was both early and bright, the hens were in an egg-laying mood.  When I entered the shed, one of the young Rhode Island Reds was sitting on the nest, wearing that inward, meditative look that a hen gets when she is about to lay.  I had to open the door to the outside because of the dust, however, and that let in a lot of light, which she didn't like, since hens prefer to lay in secluded, shady places.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw her looking annoyed, and finally my shoveling got to her and she hopped out and ran outside, protesting .

All the time I was working I could hear her cackling.  Every few minutes she would come to the door to see if I was finished.  But I wasn't, so she went away complaining, and pretty soon the rest of the hens were cackling as well, having just been reminded by their sister that they had eggs to lay too.

There is nothing like a bunch of hens pacing up and down and cackling at you to make you want to finish a job in a hurry.  So I shoveled as fast as I could, and carted away cartloads of old bedding while muttering "O.k., o.k., I'm almost done now.  Just a little longer and you can come in."  I usually try to get into a Zen state of mind when doing jobs I don't enjoy, but there was no way I could do that today with all those hens harassing me.

Finally, I carried away the last cartload.  I swept out the corners of the shed, replaced the roosting pole and the water dish, and scattered clean hay on the floor.  I closed the big door and the room became cool, dark and inviting.  As I was putting away the shovel, one, two, three hens filed in through the little trapdoor, and made a beeline for the nests.

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