Every evening begins with a trip to the back forty. That’s where the dogs, chickens and lambs live and they all need attention before sundown. But, I don’t mind. It’s a peaceful routine that signifies day’s end.
I start by grabbing up the old round-bottomed pot that we use for egg gathering. It hangs on a hook right beside the mud porch door and I think it’s the same bucket Joe’s mom used for years to gather her eggs in. Sandy, our little beagle, jumps up when I leave the house. She’s been sprawled out in my flower bed, crushing peonies and lilies but I don’t really mind. Her good nature makes up for her bad manners in the garden. She follows me down the dirt driveway that leads to the shed. .
When we round the fence the lambs, who are living around the house so they can grow to maturity beyond the threat of coyotes, begin bawling. They are up on the hill and bound and bounce their way down to me, cluttering up my path and generally making a nuisance of themselves. There are currently thirty of these noisome, wooly adolescents pooping up my front forty and sticking their heads through my wooden fence for forbidden floral snacks. Joe has promised that at least twenty will go to market next week. The lambs are hungry and I can’t get to any of the other chores until I have downloaded four gallons of grain into the three troughs over by the pen. If I don’t feed them first, then they will follow me everywhere, overwhelming the dogs and stealing their food and clattering up the chicken house steps to poke their heads in and alarm the old rooster who will crow until they scatter.
We keep the sheep chow in an old oil barrel just inside the shed door. Three chickens scratch at the base, pecking up spillage and I shoo them out of my way. There’s chicken poo everywhere. I’ll have to get Scott to fence them out of the shed tomorrow. I lean deep into the barrel until I am bottom-up and scoop grain out with a number ten can. Then I exit, carrying the five gallon bucket full of grain clutched to my chest like a fullback running for a touchdown. If I let it hang down, the lambs will shove their heads into it as I walk, and pull it from my hands. I am surrounded by a baa-ing, bleating crowd and a high carry is the only way to thwart them as I make my way to the troughs. The lambs push and shove my knees, knocking me sideways as I pour grain out for them, but at least they grow quiet with the eating.
My next chore is to feed the dogs. Back to the shed I go. This time I reach into a battered trashcan and scoop the dry food into a metal pail. The bail fell off of this bucket several years ago, so it, too, must be clutched to my chest as I cross the creek to the dog houses. Cindy is tied there until the weekend. Then it will be her turn to exercise her passion for rabbits out in the front field. She pokes her head out of her house and then pops out to meet me. Her tail wags her shoulders into a twist and she starts eating before I finish pouring. A dip of creek water with the rubber bucket completes her menu.
The final chore is egg gathering. Sandy has abandoned me to eat her supper, but Tipper Cat loves the chickens so he stalks along beside me, tail high and straight. As we approach the hen house, he crouches down. There’s a lone hen wobbling her way towards us and, unknown to her, the Feline Chicken Chaser is about to strike. Tipper twitches his tail once and then he leaps. The chicken cackles and dashes towards the hen house with Tipper in hot pursuit. When he can’t catch her, he subsides into the weeds and licks his legs furiously until he feels dignified again.
I slide the latch on the blue door of the henhouse and step over the threshold. It is cool and dim inside and most of the chickens have found their perches. One determined hen remains on a nest and when I slide my hand under her warm breast feathers I discover three eggs. She’s been broody for a month and, although Scott let her try to hatch a clutch, they fizzled. Apparently our ancient Rooster is shooting blanks. The hen cackles disapprovingly as I steal her eggs, but she doesn’t peck my hand.
The sun drops behind the mountain when I step back out. The barnyard is quiet once again and Tipper follows me back to the house where the warm light from the kitchen window calls us inside for the night.