A few days ago, the young flock of pullets and their guardian geese were integrated into the adult flock of laying hens. They had outgrown their chicken tractor/brooder and were ready for more space. And I was ready for two separate chores to become one. So with a little fence manipulation and chicken herding, (and maybe some sweat and curse words) the task was complete. We are still keeping the pullets in their own paddock within the bigger hen paddock, as the two flocks are still eating different feed rations, and so the big hens don’t take to bullying the young birds. But all’s well so far and I’m sighing a big sigh of relief as chore-time gets more refined…
The light pouring in the kitchen window just above the sink felt very spring-like. Bright patches of blue sky were finding holes in the fast-moving grey and white clouds and flashing ever so brightly. As the sun was coming up in the eastern sky, my view out the window to the west was fully illuminated. The young buds and blooms gracing the tips of tree branches throughout the forest added a palette of fresh color. My hands were hot and soapy and busy tending to a neglected sinkful of dishes from the previous night. (When my crew was just too pooped out from a full day of tending to even consider dishes!) In times when my eyes were looking down on my work at the sink, I continued to be aware of a shadow that would quickly pass by, as if my peripheral vision was seeing a leaf being blown off of the roof. At one point I looked up just in time to catch the tail end of a phoebe, the source of the consistent shadow, landing just above the window. Ahhhh, I realized. She’s tending to her nest.There’s a whole lot of tending to that is going on ’round here right now. My, oh my there’s a lot. The greenhouse is at full capacity. The plant table is packed to the gills. Even after removing several trays of plants to be transplanted in the garden, more trays were germinating in the house which quickly filled in the open table space. The chick brooder that occupies half of the greenhouse’s back wall is a dizzying flurry of black and white peeping cheeping balls of fluff and Ira has a big livestock water tub as his brooder for his precious chicks (big enough so that he can sit in there and let them jump all over him), as well as a dog kennel for the nighttime warmth and safety of his broody hen and her chicks. And we did, in fact, put the woodstove (from the tool room in the barn) in the greenhouse so we could pump up the heat for plants and chicks, despite winter’s lingering chill. Eric has been dutifully getting up about 2 am each night (morning?) to tend to that fire. Bless him. So, when the whole family, the dog, and the cat pile in to the space, there’s scarcely room to turn around. But there’s so much life flowing in there, we all find it irresistible despite the cramped quarters. And then there’s the garden. Springtime + Garden = Tending. There’s really no way around that one, “reaping what you sow” and all. What a wonderful feeling it is to be back in the garden, too. After a longish winter, and with our staple food supplies beginning to dwindle, I nearly want to cry when I look at the long row of cut lettuce that will be ready for harvesting so soon!!! And seeing the strong stand of peas (it’s been awhile, but this year we outwitted the voles! haha!), spinach, onions, tiny little carrots, and beets. As soon as the soil dries out after all of this rain that we’ve been having, I will be incredibly eager to inaugurate the cultivating hoe for the season to tend to those precious crops. My wool sheep needed a little tending to this week as well. Time to head to the parlor for a trim, ladies and gentleman. I am not a professional sheep shearer by any means, but I want to at least be able to get the job done with minimal stress on my sheep. With hand shears, to boot. I have sheared a few sheep long ago, wild and unruly Lincolns that basically had to be tackled, tied, and staked to get the job done. It was stressful. When I recently gave wool sheep another go, my experience with the Lincolns helped me to decide on a smaller breed that I could handle without having to hire a professional football player as an assistant. I chose the Shetland breed for their size and demeanor and have been so pleased with my choice. It helps that a few of them were bottle lambs (I know where you’re at, Robin!) and behave like big friendly dogs. I had super help from Eric, Jesse, and Hannah during the shearing process, and curious children as a perpetual audience. My main weakness was in being able to hold the sheep still while attempting to remove the wool at the same time (without accidentally jabbing a kicking sheep with my shears). By sheep number four, we found that I could catch the sheep and put her on her butt in position, then Eric would tie the back legs to a gate panel, and I could proceed pretty much on my own. A younger, stronger Cher could maybe have foregone the tying altogether, but I can swallow my pride on this one. I still feel good about a job well (enough) done. And my sheepies seem to be pleased with their haircuts. When the shearing was complete, my aching body (and I only sheared five sheep! and with assistants!) needed a little extra tending to!
Today dawned bright and clear. The mingling voices of the birds out my window signaled to me that the day was going to be fine. Still snug in my bed, I listened to the cheery voices and tried to discern the songs of new-comers back from a winter spent in warmer climates. The new kid on the block this morning is the Louisiana water thrush. That fast-paced, eager little song is better than a cup of coffee for helping me greet the day. Eric and Ira were up earlier than the birds this morning. Ira has always been an early riser, but he’s been a particularly eager beaver the past few mornings because any day now we are expecting the call from the post office letting us know that our chicks have arrived. The call didn’t come this morning, but Ira is certain that tomorrow is the day. This evening he didn’t even want to put on sleeping attire because it would take too much time in the morning to change clothes again. (It might take him all of 15 seconds to change clothes… and for a 10 year old, I reckon that’s a helluva lot of time.) He is beside himself excited to greet the new chicks and to hear their peeping voices. (He is very fluent in the language of chicken, I might add) Our peaceful greenhouse is going to get a whole lot noisier with the deafening cheeps of 175 newly hatched chicks. Ira says crank it up. I say where’s the cotton balls? This time of year, there are so many voices to be heard all around. Voices sing from the trees, the creek, and the tall grass. Voices sing in the daytime as well as the night. The frogs and toads are waking up. The migratory birds are winging in with songs and stories from afar. The chickens are cackling more from the work of laying all those eggs. Once the lambs start arriving, the ewes will find their motherly bleats; cows will speak to calves. There’s never a dull (or quiet!) moment when the springtime really sets in.
The kids and I are currently reading the fascinating Chronicles of Narnia aloud in the evenings or on rainy days. I love the thought of a magical land where the animals speak. In the photo below, I can only imagine the conversation Opal might be having with T.J. (the ram) if this were Narnia. She might be giving him some insider information on how to escape from the barn where I had the flock temporarily corralled for safety from the coyotes and for shearing. (Notice that I said “had”… If only the sheep could hear my voice and listen to my reasons for having them locked up, I’m sure they would skip right back into that comfy barn!!!) As this day gives way to night, the crescent moon hangs low on the western horizon. The songbirds are silent now; early to bed, early to rise. The toads, however, have picked up where the birds left off, singing this day’s final chapter. I’m torn between wanting to put on my boots to go for a little stroll in the dark to soak up some more of the nighttime voices and wanting to hurry up and get to bed so I’m ready to sing in the dawn with the birds. I can hear the leopard frogs chuckling at my silly indecision.