Monday, October 12, 2009

Upward progress: chickens, coop, and a young squirrel

We've been up late at night, Brian and I, working hard on a long-overdue item: a winterized coop. Now fully walled and insulated, we're still working on a door (we have one ready, from Construction Junction), a roof, and screening in the base - an old desk, which had sat in our garage, acting as a home for mice, until Emily suggested we repurpose it as a coop.

Meanwhile, Bolt has started crowing, while Swallow, the lovely white feather-legged hen, continues to be a very cuddly chicken. Taylor (at left, poking her head in the picture) shows her personality daily, and is the first to come and watch whatever we're doing nearby. The little roosters, Chicory and Bluebird, are tiny but amusing in their aggressions, at times leaping in the air to try to assert their dominance over other chickens 3 times their size. They remind me of the pillbugs in Bug's Life. All of them cuddle together wearily in their cage while Brian and I use loud powertools nearby, preparing their more permanent home.

I remember, long ago it seems now, trying to treat chickens as wild creatures, which need outdoor space to roam. I'd love to give these that option, and we take them to the garden on outings as much as we can. But 1 fox, 1 dog, and 28 dead chicks later, I've realized painfully that chickens are no longer wild birds, and that they need our protection. I am sorry it took me so long to see it, but when I zipped through Bob Tarte's Enslaved by Ducks and got to his passage about bird loss to raccoons, I knew at least that I wasn't the only one to hit this realization slowly.

I was thinking about that today, even before I heard a scuffle and a squeak in a pile of leaves just beyond our backyard, and I quieted my steps as I came closer. Up the tree before me came this adolescent squirrel, eyes closed and still ridiculously top-heavy, climbing back up the trunk of the tree, to a worried looking momma above. I almost walked away before I realized I still had my camera, so I had to walk back to the tree for this photo - no zoom needed at all.

I was tempted, I confess, to pick the little squirrel off the tree, and try to tame it. Brian's grandmother had a pet squirrel for a season before it went free, and I remember it fondly; I have no doubt the girls would remember this one forever and think me wonderful for bringing it home. So it took some restraint to walk quietly away, wishing I could see it make its way up to the nest, wishing I could stroke its fur and take it into my care. But a baby squirrel isn't the same kind of pet as a chicken, and I have no desire to discover another kind of animal which I can't care for adequately without training. Chickens, a cat, and two daughters, for now, are plenty.

However, the rooster situation has led us to make plans, in the near future, to attend a local event called a poultry swap. We don't think the roosters will go over well here, so we're hoping to trade - someone, somewhere, may prefer a couple of young, well-handled and lively roosters over a couple of elderly, quiet hens. But I've heard about the temptations of these kinds of events. I'm not sure next time I will get to walk away so quietly.


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