Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bird Talk

There is a flock of wild turkeys that has been grazing in our fields for several months now. In the summer, there were lots of little ones and it has been fun to watch them grow. As the American Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, I can't help but write and think about birds - wild and domesticated.

I've been raising chickens since 1988 when we bought our first home in Pepperell, Massachusetts. (The Farmer began his career in livestock rearing with a flock of egg-laying chickens when he was four years old! I'm the newbie in this family.) At our little pink house in Pepperell, there was a sheddish building which was perfect for chickens. The first spring there, I ordered in 25 exotic chicks. I have raised chickens continually since then, moving my hens from Pepperell to western Massachusetts in 1999. Yes, most people worry about moving their furniture. Me, I worried about my chickens.
At this time of year, egg production is at an all time low. The daylight is so short, the hens' egg laying mechanism slows down. For the past few weeks, I have collected one egg a day. Mind you, I'm feeding over thirty chickens. To say this is a labor of love is to be kind. But I do so love fresh-laid eggs. In about a month, my new chicks should start laying (the egg laying starts in just around the Winter Solstice - December 21st). And the old girls will start revving up again.

In the meanwhile, I'll have to exist on the memories of bright orange yolks. If all else fails, I can look at this photo I took on location last spring during the photography for my new book. There was a lovely collection of ceramic egg cups which were just screaming out for some fresh cooked eggs. I plopped in some yarn eggs instead. This image, along with several others, are now available as postcards. See my website here.

I know lots of you will be spending time with relatives or friends you barely ever see. Needless to say, conversation could slow down. I feel it is my duty to give you some ideas for "bird conversation" during your traditional Thanksgiving meal.

A couple years ago, a vet came to our house to take care of Jeremy, our guard llama. I had been told by “people” that I shouldn’t have a male llama around a young child. So we paid the cow vet to come to our place and “fix” Jeremy. He also cut off his “fighting” teeth. I figured I should learn as much as I could from the vet - in other words - pick his brain.... I asked question after question. This was two years ago or so and “bird flu” was all the rage. It was all over the media – bird flu was going to kill all of us. Naturally I asked the vet what he thought. He told me not to worry – if I had a sick chicken, I should call him. He also told me that there was no need for all the uproar in the media about bird flu.

I barely spent another second worrying about bird flu. Friends were worried I was raising chickens. I told my friends the media was nuts. They didn’t agree. The local feed store told me they probably wouldn’t be selling chicks the next year due to bird flu. As a writer, I am always thinking up new ideas for books. I was playing with an idea for a book proposal about raising chickens, illustrated with my whimsical gouache chicken paintings. I approached a publisher. Sorry, not interested. We won’t be doing any chicken books anymore. This bird flu thing is going to kill the market.

So now, I have sat back for a few years. I’ve looked for bird flu to enter the world discussion again. Every once in a while I hear something. But, you know, we’re still all here, aren’t we? Tell me, what was all the worry about?

A few months ago in the NYTimes there was a large article about raising backyard chickens in cities. I thought back to my discussion with the publisher who wasn't going to publish another chicken book due to the pandemic that would soon be occuring. Bet that same publisher is selling lots of “chicken” books now. Hen fever, to say the least. And tell me, where did the bird flu go? Conveniently, we’re on to other topics of destruction. Must be why I stopped listening to the news.

Back to your regularly scheduled stitching soon, I promise.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving in whatever form it takes. We're hoping the hunters can't find our wild turkey friends. It's quite amazing but now that turkey hunting season is upon us, the turkeys have disappeared. And who says they are dumb?


Mo Barger said...

Love your egg cups! Chickens are great, aren't they? Everyone should keep them.
Egg production in my flock is low now as well. Would you believe that of all the chicks that hatched out this summer, 90% of them are roosters?
You should move forward with your chicken book idea.

maymomvt (or Sarah) said...

Nearly every morning I had to wait for the turkeys to cross the road as I took the girls to school. I hadn't noticed their disappearance, but now that you mention it....I hope they all come back!

Anonymous said...

There have been wild turkeys in mu urban/suburban neighborhood in West Hartford, Ct for years now. Some families were feeding them so the turkeys have stayed and are quite territorial. I think it is cool to have them around although it gets problematic when they stop traffic at major intersections!


Helen said...

I'm sort of in agreement with you about the bird flu; I say 'sort of' because I feel that in spite of all the raving in the news, I don't really know enough to have a point of view. But see this http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7104572.stm
The news seems to be more and more about things that don't matter, like Lindsay Lohan's underwear, and less about what used to be called current affairs. It's as if the news was produced applying the same standards as Hollywood, i.e. for young brainless males. But that couldn't possibly be true, could it?

Patricia said...

At least a month ago I was driving down my road when I saw peacocks! They were very odd, only three of them, and they didn't fan out their tails, but birds are interesting. I have toyed with the idea of having a few chickens but with the dog and cat, it might be a lesson in futility.

Happy Thanksgiving and do the book. Heck, do paintings of the birds, make posters out of them and sell them on your website.


Kathleen C. said...

Happy Christmas to you and yours!
And I agree... make your chicken paintings into cards and posters!

Anonymous said...

If the chickens could knit or crochet in your book -- I might be able to help.

(who is somewhat serious about this -- but understands the inherent problem about poultry not having opposeable thumbs)

Suzanne said...

Happy Thanksgiving.

We have wild turkeys at work. One will come up to the glass door by my desk and peck at the glass. It was strange at work, but now we keep an eye and ear out for them.

Lynn said...

There is nothing like eating fresh eggs, not even a day old!

Anonymous said...

I loved your comment today. As a physician who is often asked about "flesh-eating bacteria" that makes the news now and then, I also agree that the media wholly overreacts in order to boost their ratings about whatever topic is faddish. True, ANY virus (bird flu or whatever) could potentially be harmful to us, but in real life (the part the media doesn't get) these incidents are few and far between and not worth the airtime they give it. By the way, the "flesh-eating" bacteria is the same variety of bacteria that causes "strep throat" that most of us have gotten in our lifetimes. Anyway, enough of that. I'm just wary of the media's hype.
I loved your turkey pics. Are the wild ones all females?