Since they came to us in early July, our youngest layers have been living in two small coops behind the garage. When they were fuzzy chicks, we carefully kept the doors shut to protect them from drafts, but soon they feathered out and we gave them free range of the area all around our house. This has some drawbacks because chickens are not potty trained.
On the other hand, watching those birds thought my windows is as entertaining as watching television. For reasons that I will never understand, a group of a hundred birds will appear out of nowhere, charge around the corner of the garage with their feet flying out behind them, and then settle down in the lawn to regain their dignity. I would love to ask them why they all felt so urgent about settling there, but of course I can’t, so I have to accept their judgement on the matter. On the other hand, most of the details that work me into a frenzy would not trouble the chickens at all. Occasionally, the chickens might have better judgement than I do about such things.
My favorite part of having these pullets behind the garage is that every night, several of them try to roost on the structure that holds a barrel of water just outside their door. I have to pick up each bird and toss her inside the coop so we can close the door and keep all our birds safe from predators. I look forward to this little night-time chore even though it takes extra time because I love to feel that grace with my hands. Their little feathered bodies are soft and smooth as doves. I remember that sweet sensation with my palms long after I have moved on to other chores.
Although I respect our full-grown hens, I would be hard-pressed to call them graceful and I don’t think about them admiringly for hours after handling them. These young ladies are special because of the grace of youth.
Our pullets are about to leave that innocent loveliness behind. With the cold season coming, and they will develop their grit and feistiness to survive their first Minnesota winter. Soon they’ll move to move into the main hen coop and become regular layers because they will be laying their first eggs. This means that they can start paying us back for all this feed they’ve been eating for five months, as well as the time we’ve spent carrying that feed to them in buckets! Those eggs will feed hundreds of people with some of the best food money can buy. Our pullets will trade some of their beauty for honor, and for learning how to be survivors.
I suppose they are like all of us that way, as we age. To the extent that we are able, we sink into a different kind of beauty, the kind we create and then give away to feed ourselves and the people around us.