Tonight I walked down to the chicken house to close and latch the door before it was completely dark. Locking the door prevents the midnight varmint marauders from coming in for a chicken dinner later in evening. The barred rocks heard me coming tonight and knowing that I always bring the day’s vegetable parings and scraps of uneaten bread from the kitchen with me to feed them. They raced out of the coup and ran up the walkway towards me in the near darkness. After some luring and urging I managed to get them to return to their nightly domicile. The small chicken house and cage offers scant protection from the varmints hunting a midnight treat but it is at least better that nothing. Opossums have gained entrance in the past and have taken their share of the chickens with impunity. Patching the entrance holes around their run has been a daunting task because when you stop up one entry way they invariably create another one, by tearing through or digging under. It has at this point been over a year and a half since I have lost a chicken to the night visitors. I am getting smarter than the night visitors, at long last, or so it seems.
The chickens all have names even though I can rarely tell them apart. There is Pauline, Margaret, Annice and Brunice. All named for my aunts, who are now diseased. Aside from laying eggs, (which is an excellent attribute) they weed my garden every winter after I harvest all the fall vegetables. They are my cleanup crew and what a job they do. By spring and planting time the garden will be completely weed free. If you are a gardener you will appreciate the benefits of having unpaid garden assistants devouring every winter weed that comes up, uninvited and unwanted. There are many weeds that thrive in the winter months and become quite the pest when planting time arrives. In addition the chickens turn over every leaf, rock and branch looking for the abundant bugs, beetles and worms. In their pursuit of the tasty morsels they also scratch much of the soil in the garden area, almost roto tilling it. The chickens forage so well they require much less food than when they are enclosed in their house in milder weather busily laying eggs. Their food is not cheap, (as in cheap as chicken feed) but all in all they are worth it.
On the short walk back to the house I noticed in the near darkness a large, drifting blue cloud of smoke coming from the top of the chimney. It gave me pause to see the beautiful azure cloud hovering, slowly quaffing upwards like a great wandering apparition just above the house. The blue smoke ascending and melding with the darkening sky above gave me comfort knowing that the fire I had prepared earlier was still busy heating the interior of the house and beckoning me to come back in. Looking back toward the garden after I reached the house I noticed a huge full glowing silver moon gently peeping through the trees rising over the top of the mountain just across the road from our house.