Favorite morning chore

For a couple years, we had a flock of a hundred laying hens that ran freely around the yard. This was a great help because those hens reduced our tick population so much that instead of finding a couple ticks each day like we did when we first moved here, our family finds a couple every season.

That’s a practical concern because I’ve known many people suffer terribly with various tick-borne illnesses. Having a few chickens around the yard seems like a great preventative health measure.

Having the hens in the yard worked well except for the flock that gathered on our deck every afternoon. I have no idea what the appeal was. Usually our hens are pecking and scratching and generally being productive outside, but these birds gathered about 4 p.m. to stare into space together on the deck. It must have been the equivalent of kicking back on the couch with a beer after a hard day’s work. Our chickens work hard in their way, and I wouldn’t begrudge them a place to relax if they were potty trained.

Our business has grown, and we had close to 600 layers this year. These hens never hung out on our deck, and there were no ticks, but it became clear that we could not share our yard with that many birds. Our daughter wanted designated shoes to walk from the house to the car when we were going into town.

My husband put up some fencing to keep most of the chickens in the hay field, but they hated it. They stood by the gate that led to our yard, waiting there, seemingly all day. They stopped laying.

We started a new routine to encourage them to enjoy their new yard. Now every morning I let out the birds and then walk into that hay field, tossing corn and shouting “Here chick chick chick!!” A whole crowd of hens follows eagerly as they see me with a bucket, and others tear out of the coop when they hear me calling. I recognize my own bad habits in the hens that are always rushing out to the field late, after all the other hens are busy pecking in the grass.

I can create art in the field because the hens gather everywhere I scatter the grain. I can form a long narrow arc of hens or a short, wide shape. I think I could form letters out there and spell words with my flock. When I’m done, I have to run away because they chase me hopefully. I picture someone watching and advising me that I don’t need to flee from hens because they are not usually dangerous.

This works well for the hens and for me. They don’t wait at the gate any more, and they’re laying more. I love feeling like a celebrity every morning, and the chickens’ gawky eagerness makes me laugh out loud. It’s like we start every day with a little celebration. That feels right.

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