If I had a blog, today I would write about cleaning the chicken house. This is no slap-and-dash, sweep-and-dust undertaking. This semi-annual event is pitchfork-wielding, back-breaking, good old-fashioned farm work.
Essentially, there are three phases to cleaning the chicken house: The Preparation, The Endeavor, and The Recuperation. The first phase, The Preparation, takes four to six weeks. During this time, I attempt to drum up motivation for this onerous task by constructing a tissue of lies, similar, I imagine, to those employed by women who have decided to have a second child. It goes something like this:
- It won’t hurt as much this time.
- It will go faster this time.
- It won’t take as long to recuperate this time.
The list goes on, but you get the general idea. Once I am happily lost in my delusions, I am ready for Phase II: The Endeavor. This phase takes four to five hours. I use the tractor to dislodge the solid “material” under the roost and use the bucket to transport the dirty straw et al to the manure pile in the barn lot. After I clean under the roost, I tackle the feeding area. Chickens are notoriously messy eaters and, as yet, I haven’t been able to curtail their feed-flipping. Under the straw by their feeder is shovel after shovel of discarded feed. I would try to recycle it, but chickens “drop load” where they eat and I wouldn’t feel right giving them dirty feed, so I heft the stuff into the tractor bucket and off to the pile it goes.
After the feeding area comes the watering area. Chickens are fairly tidy drinkers, but some water inevitably seeps into the straw and forms a fetid layer of oily black goo that weighs more than concrete. This is the hardest part: Lifting a ton of nastiness while holding my breath. Ugh. Happily, after the gooey straw, I get to the back of the chicken house and am dealing with loose straw that is just slightly dirty. This part goes faster and, since my shovel-loads are lighter, I use the pick-up truck to deliver the straw to the manure pile. I load it high, then have to unload it with a pitchfork in the barn lot, but that part isn’t too bad. The worst part is the sheer volume of material that accumulates in six months. How do I keep my spirits up? You guessed it: I sprinkle my thoughts with bonus delusions:
- I’m sure I only have one or two loads left (when there are fifteen).
- I don’t have to finish today. (Of course I do have to finish, because I won’t be able to walk tomorrow).
- My knees always sound like this (when I get in and out of the tractor six million times).
- My hand will quit going numb in a few minutes (or after a week of wearing a carpal tunnel splint).
- Nausea is absolutely normal in these situations.
It keeps my mind busy while I work and, in time, the project is complete. Then I move on to Phase III: The Recuperation.
In contrast to the previous two phases, Recuperation is all about honesty. I have worked hard and now I deserve everything I want. For a few days, sometimes up to a week, I have the perfect repartee to the annoying voice of common sense. The voice says, “You should eat a salad for dinner,” but because I cleaned the chicken house, I can silence it with, “Yes, but I burned 8 billion calories today. Ice cream it is!”
“You should get up at 6:30 and get a jump on the day,” becomes, “I cleaned the chicken house. I need my rest. How about sleeping until 9:00?”
“You really need to dust and vacuum,” is rationalized into, “I need to take care of my knees. I should spend the afternoon watching movies.”
I can get a lot of mileage out of this and, in the process, I allow myself the freedoms my ego says I don’t deserve. It’s a lovely interlude in my otherwise structured life.
As evening settles in on The Greenwood, I walk down to the chicken house to close the girls up for the night. I peek through the window and smile as I see the girls scratching in the straw, singing the “Happy Hen Song.” Like a new mother with a babe in her arms, the blood, sweat, deception, and tears it took to get here are irrelevant. I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it is an act of love; love for the innocent lives that have been entrusted to me. In the end, the only motivation I need is the image of my sweet little hens reveling in their lovely house. Here’s looking at you girls. I love you all!