I belong to a list-serve called the Vermont Bird Fanciers Club. The birds being fancied are not parakeets or macaws, but farmyard fowl: chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, and peacocks.
It\’s cold and snowy here, and going to get colder and snowier, and the members of the list are sitting by the fire and going through their spring catalogs–not seed catalogs, but poultry catalogs–and they are sharing their plans and dreams on-line.
One person is going to abandon regular-sized birds and go exclusively for bantams–the miniatures of the chicken world. Another wants half a dozen of something called \”Cuckoo Marans,\” a chicken that lays eggs with chocolate-brown shells. Araucana hybrids–the ones that lay eggs with shells colored pale blue, light green and faint rose, and that inspired Martha Stewart\’s line of house paints (yes, Martha Stewart has chickens)–are old hat. Cuckoo Marans are considered much more recherche these days.
Buff Orpingtons and New Hampshire Reds–the kinds I have–are heritage breeds, but as common as pigeons around here (come to think of it, I\’ve never seen a pigeon in Vermont). The real connoisseurs are making up orders for Speckled Sussex, Gold-Laced Wyandottes, Buff Brahmas, various breeds of ducks, and one lucky soul is going to get a pair of Sebastopol geese.
Geese! Now that is something that makes my mouth water. I love geese. Nothing says \”country\” like the honk and waddle of a wedded pair of Embdens or Toulouses. But the way they hold their heads like periscopes at the end of those long necks makes them look like Cyd Charisse. In addition, as Konrad Lorenz demonstrated, the domestic life of geese is something humans would do well to emulate.
Unfortunately I cannot get geese. The chicken pen is too small for even a single pair; plus,geese need a pond. We did install a small fish pond in our patio last summer, but geese are big birds, and their poop…suffice it to say that, with three dogs, I have more than enough issues along those lines.
So no geese, but maybe I could get some exotic hens, or a mere couple of teensy bantams? But no, where chickens are concerned, small is beautiful (no feather loss from pecking); small is healthy (no stress, therefore better disease resistance); and small is happy (no battles over food or roost space).
I\’ll have to content myself with spoiling my six hens with little attentions such as hot breakfast (a gruel of laying mash soaked in warm powdered milk) on sub-zero mornings, and gifts of woodstove ashes so they can have dust baths even while the ground is frozen–hens like a dust bath better than anything. Fortunately for me, there is practically no end to the ways one can minister to a hen.