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Freeloaders

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Christine Tailer

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

Many of my chickens have grown older, and yes, the days are shorter, and the weather has grown colder. The younger girls in my flock were just beginning to lay the occasional egg, but with the advent of chilly, even frosty nights, all of the girls seem to have decided that that was simply enough of that. Out of 30 hens, I am lucky to gather two or three eggs a day, and on many days, I gather none at all.

Still, the girls need their treats, not to mention a steady diet of layer feed and scratch grain. They raucously greet me each morning, begging as only beautiful, multicolored birds can do. They look up at me imploringly. 

“What goodies have you brought us today?” 

They well know that there are never any leftovers in our world. They happily eat up whatever Greg and I may not have eaten the day before. A friend even drops off expired food from her pantry, all to the hens’ delight, but even with all of their fine dining, I have been gathering few, if any, eggs. I suppose they have simply become a flock of beautiful, fluffy-bottomed freeloaders.

To change the subject, but only slightly, when Greg and I were out and about the other day, we happened to notice an old post driver by the side of the road. Years past, when we were building the pasture fence, we borrowed a post driver from our neighbor, and we had recently imagined that we might need to borrow it again. 

We plan to drive some more posts this coming spring or early summer, and we have come to learn that a hydraulic post driver, attached to the back of our tractor, is so much more efficient than setting posts with a hand-operated post-hole digger, or even a tractor-driven auger, so we pulled off to the side of the road to check the driver out. As we stood there imagining its ease of operation, the owner pulled up in a pickup truck. We smiled. We had not seen him in quite a while, but we consider him and his wife dear friends. He was one of the very first folks we had gotten to know when we moved to the creek valley, now over 20 years ago. I have learned, through the years, to respect his wisdom.

We talked of the weather, this year’s lack of pawpaw and the declining quality of lumber. We considered the post driver, and he told us his price, and we let him know that we would be needing one come spring and would think on it. He inquired after life in the creek valley, and I advised him, with a shake of my head, of my freeloading flock of chickens. 

He broke out into a broad smile. “Well, you must surely know the cure for that.”

I advised him that I did not. He became very serious. 

“You simply need to carry a large vat of steaming water down to the henhouse. Set it right where your hens will see it, and make sure that they do. Then, lie a good sharp ax across it. They’ll be laying in no time.”

His advice sunk in, and I had to smile. My chickens might well be freeloaders, but their lack of laying certainly brought a warmth to my heart as I stood there by the side of a country road. Even with freeloading chickens, my creek valley life could really not be any better.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com. 

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