Sunday, December 19, 2010

Frozen Water

I have failed my chickens. Allow me to explain my dilemma.

Each morning, before the rest of my family awakens, I sneak downstairs with the hounds, all three of us tiptoeing into the family room (yes, the hounds can tip-toe), to rest on our respective couches, swaddled in warm blankets, while I sip on a steaming cup of java. This would be ideal, a silent house, hot coffee and my two BFFs (Best Furry Friends), if it weren't for the sound of chickens.

Not the gentle clucking you undoubtedly imagine issuing forth from their delicate beaks, but rather a long, agonizing, "Clwaaaaaaaagh!" They form a six part harmony, so they think, and the chorus is deafening. Their message:
"We see the light on. We know you're in there. We're hungry, and, oh, by-the-way, our water is frozen. Again."

Yes, I hear all that from a monosyllabic call that echoes painfully in my ears and into my dreams even, day after day, reminding me of the fact that I have failed my hens. You see, a month ago, I was up at Agway, buying layer pellets for my wee lovies, who are all producing eggs now, (save one, the Americana is holding out on us) and I noticed on the top shelf, a water heater for chickens. The electric heater for a metal watering can is a whopping $50. Ouch.

No matter, I thought. I will simply bring in the waterer each day, de-ice it, and save 50 enchiladas. Easier said than done. The hens crowd around the watering can as I open the coop, and rush toward me, looking pitiful and desperate, making it impossible for me to get my hands in there and remove said can.

So, I've taken to tricking them by preparing an "oatmeal" mash of pellets mixed with warm water, and scattering this in the run area to distract them from the front door. It worked for a while, but the birds, while a little slow on the uptake, aren't completely stupid and now refuse to stand down from their post. It's a tender game of "shoo-shoo-SCAT!" as I tentatively reach my hand in and fast-as-lightening, scoop out the waterer, forever in fear of an onslaught of pecking beaks.

Demanding little beasts, I think, as I shuffle back to the house, frozen water in tow. The pivotal point came yesterday, though, watching my husband run this "errand" of love for the hens. Eric made the mistake of getting up early, so I asked him to help me with the frozen water situation, since my slippers were "all the way upstairs."

I instructed him to carry the mash to the hens, and bring in the water. I observed from the window, cozy and safe as I was, my brave husband, put his best game face on and attempt to complete this seemingly simple farm chore. He approached the coop with the warm mash, he opened the door, his hand trembling as he dumped the mash into the run, when he was ambushed. Goldilocks, my largest hen, moved in for the kill.

Doubling over in unrestrained laughter, I watched Eric scamper back to the house, sans water can. "I was attacked! The big-gold-one," he sputtered.

"Wow," I exclaimed, trying to sound sympathetic, "She really got you there." He presented his wound, a small circle of red forming on his thumb knuckle. I suppressed giggles at this point. "She pecked you hard."

"Actually," Eric finally admitted, "She never really pecked me, just tried to. I scraped my hand on the wire door as I pulled it back." Oh. Poor thing.

So, here we are today. I traipse out to the coop, ice crunching under my slippered feet, divert the hens with their mash, swoop in and grab the frozen water, and set about to make my hens' world right again. I've had enough, and so have they. It seems I need to journey to Agway, and shovel out fifty shekels, to buy comfort for the "girls." All for the sake of five, glorious eggs each day. They're worth it, I must admit.

My daughter concurs. Brie works with those hens every day, feeding them apples, babysitting them during free range time, and teaching Anastasia (Lady Gaga) to roost on her shoulder and arms. What she wouldn't do for her beloved pets. She will make the journey to Agway worthwhile, keeping me entertained with her antics during the car ride to Monroe, and begging, no doubt, for chicken accessories while at the store. I can hardly wait.

Rest easy, dear hens. Warm water is coming your way.