Mornings aren’t so bucolic at the ranch as they once were. It still starts out nicely, with the belt of Venus dropping behind the cottonwoods to a Hallelujah chorus of songbirds. Slate stretches out across the bed. As my eyes peel open, the peace is shattered by an anemic crow from one of the Jersey Giant cockerels. That starts up the bawking complaints of hens locked in their coop. I get up, pull on some moderately clean clothes and the drill begins.
Slate beats me to the front door, trying yet again to figure out how to work the door lever. If he could only get out before I opened the door, he wouldn’t have to wear his harness. Yes, my cat wears a medium size dog harness. Safety orange with reflective material so we can find him in the dark. Sometimes you just need a handle on your cat. He follows me to the orchard gate and heads off to do his fence testing rounds. Curses, foiled again. The hens’ coop is parked in the orchard this summer; they jump out their pop door like circus clowns coming out of a kiddie car and charge off to find that unsuspecting worm in the irrigation channels.
This week, the 11 week old Jerseys are camping right out side the front door, corralled in movable electric fence. We are moving their paddock by stages, with them in it, into the orchard as well. Inside the electronetting, they have been free to run around like crazy fools since first light. Like all preteens, they are ravenous. Check their food and water, ignore begging for treats, keep moving.
The goslings whoop at me as I open the hoop house door. At five weeks, they still don’t honk, just a sweet whistling “whoot.” Geese, unlike chickens, do not have a crop to store food overnight. Sometime in the night they polished off their grower ration. They are happily excited to get out and eat some proper grass. They are easily pleased. I start the water to refresh their baby pool for their morning bath.
The goats come to the gate. They still have a bit of alfalfa in their feeder, but I’m not going to top it up until evening. Today they are going to work in the orchard. Goats will destroy a young apple tree in minutes, but there is plenty of good feed in the alleys between the trees. Happily, our goats quickly learned to respect the 3000 volts delivered by the electronetting. This week their paddock is set up between the Graniwinkles and the Hudson Golden Gems. I toss a rope around each head, grab ahold tightly and open the gate. “Come, goats!” It sort of works.
We parade past the geese, the hoop house, the Jerseys. Progress stops when the goats notice the hammock stands aren’t in the same place as the day before. “Come, goats!” We march on through the orchard gate, by the hens hoping for a treat, dodging a disgusted cat who doesn’t want to share his orchard with stinky goats, and into the paddock. I can almost hear the goats chanting reminders to each other, “don’t touch the white fence.” With one hand I let go of the ropes as I reach with the other to grab the end of the electronetting and secure it. I pull off the lead ropes and issue the day’s instructions: “go eat something.” I power up the fence and ignore the baleful looks. Before I reach the gate, they have accepted their fate and begun eating.
Last is Carolinus, sadly no longer known as Carolina due to the recent appearance of heel spur nubbins. Poor guy. He is still sleeping in his cardboard box under a dishtowel. It’s kind of like a throwing a cover over the parrot cage, only not so stylish. Now he spends his days between his feeder on the porch and various fence lines, looking longingly at the other chickens. “Won’t you be my friend?” They stare back, “Won’t you be our breakfast?” I minimize the risk of floor ejection by nabbing Carolinus from his box as I lift the towel and carrying him straight out the door to his food bowl. He does emit impressively voluminous squawking for such a short journey.
30 minutes, 44 mouths fed, not yet my own. My stomach may be growling, but my heart is already full.