When the weather is really cold and the wind is blowing, I keep the door of the chicken coop closed and the light on. Poor Charlemagne\’s magnificent comb and wattles are turning black at the edges from frostbite, so I want to give him all the protection I can. At the same time, fresh air and sunshine are good for chickens, and too much protection can make them sick.
This morning the sun was out, the temperature was inching into the twenties, and I decided it was time to open the coop door to the elements. But when I went to open it, I found that it was frozen shut. (If you\’re wondering how I got into the coop in the first place: our animal dwelling is attached to the back of our attached garage, so I can get to my beasties in all weathers. The door that froze shut was the one leading from the coop into the chicken yard.)
I gave the door a couple of shoves, to no avail: this was a job for the hair dryer. I took off my barn shoes and put on my house shoes and went up to the second-floor bathroom and fetched the dryer and came back downstairs and took off my house shoes and put on my barn shoes and plugged in the dryer and turned it on.
All I could do was aim the warm air at the crack between the bottom of the door and the floor, I couldn\’t even see the ice that was causing the trouble, since it was all on the outside. This is the kind of job that makes me nuts. I was crouching on the straw, blowing hot air at an invisible chunk of ice that might take hours, or even days, to melt. There had to be a faster way.
I turned off the dryer and got a weeding tool—a metal rod about a foot long, with a bifurcated end—and tried to get it under the door, but it was sealed shut. I got up and hit the door with my shoulder as hard as I could, the way I\’d seen police do on TV. The door barely budged. With a sigh of irritation I crouched down again and turned on the hair dryer.
I thought I could entertain myself by watching the chickens—you know, paying attention to them, being in the moment. But the noise of the dryer was making it impossible to pay attention to anything. Finally I gave up and focused on that crack under the door.
And then, behold, I saw a drop of water run under the crack. The dryer was working! I jumped up and gave the door a shove, but it still didn\’t budge. I tried again to pry with the weeding tool. No luck.
Clearly the yang approach wasn\’t working, so I squatted down and went back to the yin technique with the dryer.
Several eons passed, but eventually the water drops became a trickle and I was able to open the door just enough to stick out my arm and direct the dryer at the ice. Then there was enough room to maneuver the weeding tool and chop off chunks of ice. And finally with a loud squeak the door opened wide and a swath of sun entered the coop.
The chickens immediately went to that sunny spot and started preening. One hen sat down on the hay and closed her eyes in ecstasy. The most timid one burrowed her head under Charlemagne\’s chest and kept going until she was completely hidden under him. He fluffed out his feathers and stood over her like a mother hen. If chickens could sigh, they would all have been sighing with pleasure. To them, at that moment, the sun truly was a god.
The sight of my flock preening in the sun has stayed with me all day, and made me unaccountably happy. What is it about giving comfort to animals that gives such pleasure? It is not unlike the joy of mothering an infant. The needs are critical but simple, and you know you can fulfill every last one of them.
Alas, infants soon outgrow those simple needs, but some of us never get over the urge to satisfy.