Archive of Past News of the Farm:
"A Peloton of Hens" July 11, 2005
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July 11, 2005
A Peloton of Hens
Greetings Friends of the Farm,
From France, my sister-in-law Joyce reports that she saw the Tour de France in person. Her vision of it lasted only ninety seconds, an exciting blur.
Well, I feel rather wimpy, retreating to the coolness of the now air-conditioned farm house, rather than continuing to trudge around outside, sweating. Why, not only do I have the Big Air on, I also have a fan pointed at me. It's almost sinful.
Wimpy and sinful maybe, but rational. When August comes the first of June, and stays, a girl has to change her ways. Nature teaches us you know. So, in deference to her guidance, my work day begins at 6 AM, slacks off at noon, and continues in the evening. That's enough. Besides, there's plenty to do inside, where it's cool.
The hens agree. They had a big time out yesterday. In the early moments near dawn, when the heat was a scant thirty minutes behind our first view of the sun, I let them all out. Some hens were still on the perch, but most were pecking around, having a bit of morning cereal, and acting as though the open gate was a normal thing. Soon they ambled out in a civilized fashion, quite the change from the torrential rush that occurs in the afternoons when I open the gate and peel back the entry fence.
When that happens, they squawk the most thrilling joy -- flying a foot off the ground, tumbling over each other -- and enveloped in a screen of dust, they pound their feet this way and that way to the fig tree by the farm stand. As they exit might be a good time to count them, but it happens so fast.... And never fails to amuse me.
There are always the stragglers; those who are still in the big run and haven't realized what has transpired. Once they do, they zip into the Hen House, round the corner -- often slipping in their haste, crashing into fences -- and noisily zoom out the open gate to join the festivities. A few hens are still in the laying nests, pretending not to be bothered. And then, there is Hoppy, waving her apparently broken leg about, like a boat oar, her head tilted towards the excitement, alert, silent, alone.
I went to the kitchen and fixed myself an agua de sandia (watermelon juice, water and ice). It's one of the most refreshing and cooling drinks, and every summer, I nearly drown in it, except for last summer, when all the melons drowned in the Flood, and this year wasn't looking so good because most of our little melon plants got eaten by the grasshopper plague -- and the rest got over-run by weeds -- as the farm hands concentrated on the enormous squash harvest. But thanks to some farmer friends of ours... we have melons for us and for you.
A dud cantaloupe, a runt, sat on the counter. I realized that, since there was a perfect one sitting next to it, we weren't likely to need both. In sudden compassion, I cut it in half, closed it back up and carried it out into the stifling heat and over to the Hen House, leaving my glass of sandia to sweat.
I opened the gate and left it wide-open; wound the wire entry wall into the lambs' quarter bush at the corner, and delivered both little halves of the melon to Mama Harriet and her chick Harriets. They eagerly dipped their beaks into it, gobbling the seeds and slurping the juicy flesh. Such nutritious pleasure.
No hens noticed the open gate, so I proceeded to gather the eggs, holding out my shirt to carry them, and found a cracked egg in one box. I flipped it to the ground and the mobs descended from every shady spot in the run. Aside from an egg, only tofu or a worm brings such effort in such heat. A Harriet, her black feathers likely on the verge of igniting, grabbed some shell with nice egg whites streaming from it and raced through the portal.
Suddenly everyone saw that she was not only in possession of the prize, but OUT! I had to step aside as the hen peloton exploded into action. Cyclists in France would have envied the hens' speed -- and their hilarity! (Of course they were racing for worms, and not a yellow jersey.) The Hen House was empty except for the little family and its cantaloupe, a couple of hens on the nests, me, and Hoppy. As I exchanged the hot water in the tubs for cooler water, Hoppy rowed over to examine challenged tomatoes I'd delivered earlier. Without all the turmoil of the other hens she could peck around at her leisure. Perhaps she would find the fruit worms in some of them.
Hoppy, as a chick, possessed two sound legs for the first month or so of her life, but suddenly she showed up lame, one leg parallel to the ground and heading out to the right. An oar. She uses it for balance and occasionally like a crutch, and gets around well. Except if she finds herself at a popular event: just-delivered, fresh food treats. Frantically, she looks right and left for a way out of the melee, but if I place a tidbit right in front of her, she hunkers down and defensively consumes it with necessary haste.
She has a stoop upon which to hop -- one-leggedly, with the aid of the sweeping oar and flapping wings -- up to the lowest nest, where she lays her small, pale egg. A gift to the farm. At night, she is the last to climb the rungs leading up to the perches. She wants everyone else to be settled and content, before she slowly ascends. After such an expenditure of energy, she doesn't want to be thrown off the perch because of another hen's angry jealousy . At times, I'd like to swoop her up and place her on the perch, but that would be an affront to her dignity, and likely cause her a heart attack. The most I can do is to make the ramp's angle less treacherous. Well, some air conditioning in the Hen House would help too.
And maybe a yellow jersey to the winner of the "exit stage." And, why not? a kiss on each cheek.
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For market, Wednesday and Saturday, 9-2:
Tomatoes; Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes; Smoke-dried Tomatoes; Watermelon (Buena Tierra Farm) (eat or juice); Figs; Butternut Squash; Delicata Squash; Eggplant; Onions; Potatoes; Bell Peppers; Poblano Peppers; Hen House Eggs; Native Greens (Lambs' Qtrs., Purslane, Amaranth); French Sorrel; Arugula; Okra; Elephant Garlic; Zinnias; Tomato Tonic and Gause Yaupon Honey....
Pure Luck Dairy's award-winning Feta and Chevre; Wateroak Farms' Ice Cream, Yogurt, and Ricotta; Rain Water; Miles of Chocolate; and Fresh Breads from Wild Wood (Wed) and Sweetish Hill (Sat).
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Reportedly, it's not as hot here, as at other venues, as we have shade and usually a breeze, but cold watermelon will help too.
Copyright 2005 Carol Ann Sayle