A Reminder from My Hens

I carried fresh water downhill to the henhouse. We have only five girls now. When I opened the door, four of them squawked, “It’s about time!” Broody, their roommate with misplaced maternal affection was on the nest again.
I apologized for my tardiness, found a solid ring of ice in their water feeder. My poor egg layers forgave my neglect, pecked snow off my boots and ice chunks from the frozen hydrator. I retrieved Broody from her box.
The hens went straight to their clean water, dipped their beaks into the moat and lifted their heads to swallow. They were so parched and still I could hear water run down their gullets. Amazed by their communal thirst, I watched them awhile, aware again of their dependency upon my husband and me for their basic needs.
The girls didn’t budge from drinking as I replenished their grain, scraped droppings off roosting posts, and refreshed the straw. I plugged in the heat lamp above the waterer, thanked them for their eggs and said goodbye.
Perhaps the mild January relaxed my guard. The ground thawed enough to let the girls out in their tractor pen several times. They ran onto the green grass like prisoners set free. Room to roam is a priority for healthy and happy hens.
Winter prohibits dust baths and foraging for bugs. For their vicarious exercise and nutrition, we hang a head of cabbage from the house’s ceiling about once a week. Better they peck a vegetable than one another. Cabbage is also a source of hydration.
More like a camel than a chicken, my feathered friends reminded me to drink more water. Childhood habits are rather steadfast. My capacity to endure thirst came from avoiding the rotten egg odor from Kentucky spigots and the chlorine taste in Detroit’s water. I could run and play all day without a thought or sip of water, then gulp down a tall glass of cold milk at the dinner table. Mom doled out our fair share of the family’s milk. The refrigerator was off limits.
Coming from southern farm families, my parents adhered to water conservation when they moved north. They turned off the tap between rinses when brushing their teeth. Mom filled our bathtub the southern three inches deep. We weren’t allowed to run through the sprinkler because of water bills and polio scare.
Dear Reader, Warren and Sadie O’Brien were folk who once drew water from a well, knew the labor involved in keeping a pure supply available. They knew the independence and health good water brought their homestead. After their divorce, Mom returned to Kentucky and built a new house with a well. She watered her flowers, a vegetable garden and fruit trees.
My mother didn’t live to see me fall in love with chickens, perpetuate in some small portion the McCoy farm where she was raised and I was born. I feel like her when I carry water down to the girls. Mom preferred to drink iced tea.