Saturday, May 21: 

Finally a sunny day.  Foggy this morning, but when the fog cleared the sky was clear and blue.  Yesterday was dry but cloudy.  We are glad for any day without rain, right now.  The pasture is running with water; there is nowhere for the precipitation to go but across now.

   While the rest of us were in Pittsburgh yesterday for a matinee and evening performance of Antigone, and a trip to the zoo in between, the three biggest boys stayed home and worked.  As we stood in the elephant house admiring the size of a four-year-old African elephant born there in Pittsburgh, S-3 rang us on the cell phone.  They’d demolished the chicken house and wanted to know if they could burn the siding.  Well.  Work moves quickly with these guys, if the weather just cooperates.  They met us in town at six for dinner, and discussed the footing they were building to support a bridge of railroad ties across Jeddo’s run from the chicken house to the barn.

   Today they built the bridge.  On either bank they have constructed walls of large stones backfilled with smaller ones, preventing washout under the ends of the bridge, and upon these are supported six railroad ties, making a bridge about four feet wide.  At either end they are backfilling with more rock and clay to make a smooth transition from the dirt to the bridge.  It is a pretty massive construction.  The goal was a bridge over which the Wheelhorse could be driven with a heavily loaded trailer; you could drive over this with a mack truck. 

    S-5, on the other hand, with the girls to help and hinder, set up a second tractor of stock panels and installed the CRX’s in it.  This was a rather involved process, including testing all of the chicken waterers in order to find one or two that didn’t leak.  They all leaked, so then they had to be caulked and tested again.  Eventually the fat white chicks, each weighing a good twelve ounces or so now, were hauled down the hill in a crate and plunked down on the grass in the tractor.  CRX’s are so slow and heavy that they don’t even try to escape when you catch them; they just squawk a little.  Even while we raise them, anticipating thirty-one delicious chicken dinners from the effort, we wonder whether any good can come out of rearing birds so obviously unfit for real life.  If animals should be allowed to express their natures, so to speak, what can be said for birds which will eat themselves to death long before they could reach maturity?  What sort of chicken nature have they?  Example:  when we went down the pasture this evening to check whether the cow’s paddock needed to be switched before morning, we passed the CRX tractor and noticed that all three of the waterers in there were full.  These birds, which eat so much, drink a great deal of water every day, and their waterers had last been filled at midafternoon, so it was unusual that they should now have full waterers.  We investigated. 

   To encourage the birds to take a little exercise, we always place their waterer and their feeders at opposite ends of their sixteen foot tractor.  These guys had been loaded into the covered end of the tractor, where their feed pans were.  The waterers, naturally, were at the other end.  Could the chickens have failed to discover them?  Sure enough, when we crawled into the tractor and moved a waterer right down among the birds – all of which were couched down in the grass, taking it easy – after an interval for recognition of this familiar object – the silly birds rushed – picture a slow but determined waddle – to the waterer and drank thirstily.  It was obvious that they had not ventured even so far as the other end of the pen in search of water, and chances are they would have died of thirst at their own end of the pen, rather than show the enterprise and initiative to go looking for some.

May 22, Sunday: 

   It rained as we drove back up the river after Sunday mass, but the clouds broke and moved off after breakfast, and the sun shone!  Much sympathy for Papa and S-5 who had one more performance of Antigone requiring them to drive into the city and forgo all the pleasures of a sunny Sunday.

  The Rhode Island Reds received a shortened jail sentence and were turned out of the polywire paddock at the bottom of the pasture, where a single day of scratching had already done serious damage to the grass there.  Their nesting boxes will be moved back up to the barn, and the optimists in the family say they can have the new hen house framed and roofed in a matter of two days.  Let’s hope they are right.  The area around the chicken house, as all who have kept chickens will know without being told, is a bare wasteland, but it is inaccessible for other uses anyway; and our seven acres of pasture are not so vast as to prevent some, at least, of our hens venturing to its farthest confines in search of fresh cow pies.  We conclude, therefore, that penning and rotating them may be a waste of effort.  The boys applaude; this conclusion they reached independently several days ago.