Another Day in the Country
Doing down time
© Another Day in the Country
This week has been down time for me. It’s January. It’s cold. The weather is dreary.
Of course, there’s another reason I’m emotionally treading water. It’s because this was the week that I’d planned to be in Hawaii but deemed it wiser to stay home. This is the second year in a row that I’ve cancelled Hawaii, sandy beaches, warm weather, and pineapple sorbet.
My hens have been experiencing down time — as in not laying eggs. The last few days, things have been picking up with maybe two or three eggs in the nest boxes, but we’re a long way from getting a dozen a day.
But then, my flock has dwindled.
First Goldie, my friendly hen who loves flying over the fence, found herself served up as chicken dinner for a neighborhood dog whose master is not neighborly.
Then Dixie and Trixie, my two white topknots, met their demise from some wild varmint that invaded their house in the dark of night looking for food.
Being on the bottom rung of the chicken pecking order, the topknots roosted at a lower spot than the rest and found themselves fair game.
Like any farmer lass living in the country, I count the remaining hens every morning when I go out to do chores.
(Yes, I know that calling myself a farmer and a lass is stretching reality, but sometimes writers include a slight exaggeration to make a point or give continuity to a story.)
My friend Norma lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, and when I tell her tales of my farming endeavors (as in gardening and egg gathering) she shares news of her son, Jeff, who in his late 50s has taken up farming.
Having never gardened or raised chickens, he agreed to do something very different from being a stock broker and began caretaking a farm for a wealthy land investor. Then he added chickens to the farm and tilled up a huge garden area.
“Jeff’s hens aren’t laying much either right now,” Norma reports to me, “and he’s breaking ice every day to keep the stock in water.”
My sister, who acts as caretaker of our “stock” whenever I’m gone, was “breaking ice” every day, sometimes twice a day, while I was vacationing in California in December.
Then Kristina sent me an article about using an old crock pot to keep the chicken’s water from freezing. We didn’t have a crock pot but we did have a big old electric skillet, and it’s been doing the trick.
I do have a regular heated water container in the little chicken house, but it’s not big enough for a dozen thirsty hens.
It did take a little experimenting to get the skillet adjusted to the right low setting to keep water from freezing without serving it too warm.
“What? We’re having tea now?” I can imagine one of the hens carrying on.
I’m in a quandary at the moment because none of the remaining hens in the big house have names — except for one hen dubbed Blondie. You can imagine why. She’s the only one of my Easter eggers who is buff colored.
It’s difficult to give the hens names when they all look alike and you can’t really tell them apart easily.
The gardening part of my personal farm enterprise is experiencing down time, of course, as in we are down to just geraniums blooming on the back porch.
You couldn’t exactly call the enclosed porch “warm,” but it has managed to stay above freezing with a little help on the coldest nights that plunged toward zero.
I asked my cousin LeeRoy what real farmers were doing this time of year, when the weather has called a halt to crop farming.
I asked partly because I know that farmers rarely have down time.
“I’m calving spring bred cows,” he answered me. “A large majority of the day is spent feeding cows since there is obviously no grazing. Every animal needs fed, and with it being so cold, water tanks need the ice broken. Fortunately we have electricity and tank heaters at almost every tank.”
My farming experience is a microcosm of his, but I can relate. When the wind is cold as mischief and I’m bundled up, trekking between two chicken houses trying to keep 16 busy little hens in food and water, I feel a kinship to LeeRoy and all the dependable guys just like him who keep hundreds of animals fed and watered in winter weather.
Keeping rural America alive and well is a year-round, full-time job. I try to do my scaled-down bit — everything I know to do and within my power to be. I want to be a good caretaker and a good neighbor, over on D St., in Ramona, Marion County, the state of Kansas, USA, on planet Earth, where it’s just another day in the country.