This post is contributed by Jeri Metz, an American who now lives on a farm in Umbria, Italy. Which senses can we name here? Touch: The ragged feathers and warmer winter coats. Taste: The eggs now or later. Sight: Huddled together. Sound: Chickens talking quietly among themselves, then hens cackling as they begin to lay. Motion: They dust bathe and peck, head toward their perches. I always look forward to her blog. Visit labellaterra.wordpress.com.
Author: Jeri Metz
I can’t really say that I raise chickens. It’s more like we share the same address. Compared to most of the world’s chickens, mine live pretty much in their natural environment. The hens—in exchange for consistently good meals from our leftovers—give me a constant supply of high-protein food. Well, almost constant. Without heat or electric lights, they follow the habits of their ancestors. From the time of the autumn equinox until the end of November, they slow down on the egg production as they ready their bodies for the cold winter. They molt, a natural process where they ditch the ragged feathers of spring and summer for a new warmer winter coat. As the darkness rises they head toward their perches before five o’clock, a bit naked and bedraggled looking. On a sunny day, they dust bathe and peck about but mostly they stay close to the coop, huddled in small groups talking quietly among themselves, conserving warmth. By December they stop laying all together, keeping their protein to themselves. All chickens living free with natural light follow this routine.
But by the week of the winter solstice the chickens are once again full of feathers, beginning to plump out, more active, more alert. They know that something is about to happen. They are waiting.