At Long Last!
It felt like ages in the making. It kind of was ages in the making, in that this winter has aged us all beyond our years. (Or, at the very least, it has aged our backs from all the shoveling, even with the proper technique.) But two weeks ago it was warm enough, and I felt enough snow had melted, that it was time to release the chickens from their winter bondage out into the yard once more.
After all the build up and sense of urgency to let them free-range again, it felt a little anti-climactic. This is not to say that they weren’t excited, but it’s not like they all flipped out and just dug holes deep into what earth was exposed and rid the area of bugs and worms within minutes of their release. I suppose perhaps I needed to manage my expectations a little better. However, given all the time they had been kept in the run due to the snow, I thought that they might venture a little further on their first excursion out than just right along the edges of the coop, but I suppose sometimes you have to ease back into it. And who knows, there may have been things to eat just out of reach since December that had been sitting there taunting them all this time, and finally they could get them. You’d notice the stuff right outside the fence, whereas the pile of birdseed way up the path near the house is probably out of sight. (Though, even when they got near that, they didn’t pay much attention to it. I think it’s been so long since a nice stroll around the yard that they’re just off their game.)
Boss Chicken got in on the action too. I had to dig trenches around the perimeter of the foundation so that when things began to melt water wouldn’t just come directly into the house. This perimeter had melted enough to make a nice path for a chicken who needed to be protected from the others. I stood at the path entrance to keep watch, and she happily waddled around in there as best she could. Then, I heard her make a very excited noise, and turned to see that she had discovered the entrance to the rabbit hole that goes under our side steps. I had this image of a rabbit coming out and pummeling her, but I think I was just being overprotective. Nevertheless, I moved her back down the path away from it. She of course quickly headed right back to the hole, so I gave up. I had an eye on her, so I could fend off any killer rabbits, should they appear. (SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t.)
Meanwhile, my son, who has also been trapped inside all winter (though our house has less chicken poop in it than the coop, I hope) got some free-ranging time too. He was happy to be outside again, and hit the swingset for a while until he discovered the snowbanks around the house were perfect for rolling down, and even skiing without skis. When I needed him to, he would climb the banks to the far side of the chickens and herd them back to where I could see them. None of my earlier fears about them running out into the open tundra came to pass. They stuck to the path, and seemed to find plenty to pick at there. I suppose you work over the obvious stuff the first time back out. Now that it’s been even warmer for a week, there’s plenty more exposed areas to explore. They’ll be hitting that soon, if I have any say in it. Things are slowly returning to normal.
It’s been such a rough winter, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy to be outside again, but that first day of free-ranging felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. The chickens were happy and well-behaved, as was my son, except for when he realized how much fun it is to put snow down the back of my jacket. But even that felt good, in its way. Every so often something happens and you realize while it’s happening that you’re experiencing something wonderful. As I watched my son roll down a snowbank for the 300th time as chickens poked around in the mud for anything they could find, I knew I had my moment. Winter may finally be over.