Tuesday, May 29, 2012

About horses...and beginning again.

Apple's steady gaze.
It has been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable in the saddle. I can remember, during summers when I spent entire days on horseback, that it felt as easy as breathing. But now, I carry with me the anxieties and body aches of 40-plus years, and where I used to feel confident in my seat and hands and legs, I am dubious. And I have a confession to make: While I was a fearless rider as a kid and young adult, I have been wearing fear into the barn every time I go, and I'm not sure why. I think answering that question is part of the journey back.

Trips to the barn over the past few years have been about getting my daughters, 13 and 11, in the saddle, not myself. It’s been about teaching them simple safety rules and the basics of horsemanship. And it's been as a helper as my husband works to get his sister’s big Drum Horse, Addie, going in harness. We’ve gone for drives, but that’s about the extent of my horse time over the past 15 years.

Now that my daughters are older, I find myself itching for that sense of solid ease around horses and in the saddle…that feeling of being able to move a horse this way or that without having to think too much about every little step. I want to brush away the jumpiness that sits on my shoulder and says “what if…” every 10 seconds. I want to enjoy horses again.

I think that part of it is that as an adult, my “what ifs” come with negative, emergency-room consequences. My daughters’ “what ifs” are more about sky's-the-limit possibilities. What is it about adulthood that makes one so serious? How do I approach riding with a childlike heart, a willingness to make mistakes without judgment, and to take joy in small successes?

I watch L, as she sits astride Butters. She loves that horse, an older palomino of unknown past and breeding. (She’s always trying to guess at his parentage. I think last week she was convinced that he was part Akhal Teke. The week before, she imagined he was some exotic Eastern European breed.) I think he may have some Arab in him, and probably some Quarter Horse.

He’s an old-fashioned horse, with a snappy walk, better suited to dressage than Western pleasure. She trots him around, lopes a little, walks a little, stops and chats with her instructor, then heads back out to the rail. There isn’t the slightest hesitation in her manner with Butters, and the two of them braid their intentions together in a solid bond. 

My oldest daughter, M, is riding Apple, a POA gelding as kind as they come. His tail is 1970s-short because his herdmate, Jubilee (a 3-year-old Welsh pony), chewed it with a hairdresser’s precision. M had been riding a Quarter Horse mare named Nilla, but when Nilla ran for the trailers at the end of a trail ride a year or so ago, and tossed M in the process, her confidence was shaken. 

Apple is giving it back to her in the slow and easy manner of a caring teacher. M took that fall in stride and is working well with Apple, but she’s always been my serious child, and anxiety twists a bit at her when things (whether it’s at school, with friends, or at dance class) don’t go perfectly. Apple is teaching her about forgiveness and letting go. He’s patient as she works at balance and lightness. I’m hoping that his reassuring ways will help her to ease up on herself just a little bit.

As a re-beginner, I’ll be riding Apple from time to time, along with a tall, flea-bitten gray Thoroughbred mare named Ellie. I’m just getting to know Ellie, but she has the softest, kindest eye, and in those dark depths, I can see the glimmer of blue-sky what ifs. I can see the part of horses that I fell in love with as a young girl, and it draws me to her. In her eyes, I see my own horse-crazy childhood.

I’m trying to start a list of goals to carry with me for the first month, and I'm beginning with two simple aspirations:
·      I will ride one to two hours each week (doesn’t sound like much as I put that in writing, but with my schedule it’s ambitious when it’s a 25-minute drive to the barn).
·      I will fit in a strength-ball class twice each week to build my core, and add a daily walk to my calendar.

And so, here I am, back at the beginning. All these years, I’ve been watching my daughters learn about horses. Now they are helping me with my own horse lessons—reminding me to take joy in the ride and pleasure in the moment.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Rhubarb Custard Pie, fresh from the oven.
After listening to Garrison Keillor for so many years, I have a hard time saying "Rhubarb Pie" without saying "Bebop-a-rebop rhubarb pie," and an even harder time thinking about it without my mouth watering. My big rhubarb plant in the corner of the yard has unfurled its giant leaves and stands there singing a sweet siren song of pie as I water the garden, weed, and rush past it to take the girls to school or other activities.

I've been planning to make it for over a week now, but with the last week of school, the eighth grade formal, sixth grade talent show, mini-society project, mousetrap car projects, awards assemblies, and M's eighth grade "presentation of learning," the rhubarb is still intact in the garden, growing and waiting and tempting.

As we shift from last-day-of-school (today) to first-day-of-summer vacation (tomorrow), I'll bridge the transition with a sweet-tart rhubarb pie, celebrating ends and beginnings and time marching forward.

Rhubarb is also called "Pie Plant." That's a reflection of its best use, in my opinion. I love rhubarb jelly, crisp, muffins, and cake, but pie is its best setting. A sweet, salty crispy crust cradling red and green sugared tartness. Yes indeed. Pie Plant.

I dug out my rhubarb pie recipe last night when my friend Jenn mentioned she had a big rhubarb bouquet to use up. While doing so I set the intention that I would leave the recipe out and make it today.

This morning, I let the hens out, checked on my garden after yesterday's soaking rains, opened the rabbit hutch to give Wilson some yard time, and filled the bird feeder. Checked email, made a list of work projects for the day, and then went out to the garden and gathered up some rhubarb. It was still filled with rain water and the earth was soft and fragrant. There is something about gathering food from my garden that makes me want to hum.

The best way to harvest rhubarb is to grasp it firmly, pulling and twisting it away from the crown of roots. It'll send new stalks up, and if I'm lucky, I'll have enough to freeze for use all summer and into fall.

I carried it inside, washed it and trimmed the ends, then chopped it into 1/4-inch dice. Some people like to use it larger -- a 1/2-inch dice--but for pie I like it smaller.

I hemmed and hawed over whether to make Rhubarb Custard Pie, or simple Rhubarb Pie. The hens have been productive this week, so I'll make the custard pie and use up some eggs, but both are easy to make, and I'll include the recipes for each below.

(My favorite crust recipe comes from the book "Canning for a New Generation." It uses vinegar and an egg, and the crust can withstand a fair amount of handling without getting tough. It's a must-have book!)

Rhubarb Custard Pie
I think this makes a nice change. It's an old recipe, from my mother-in-law, who makes the best pies.
9 inch pie crust
3 eggs
3 T. milk or half-and-half
2 c. sugar mixed with 1/4 c. flour and 3/4 tsp nutmeg
4 c. pink rhubarb diced
1 T. butter
Beat eggs slightly, add milk and mix, then stir in sugar/flour/nutmeg mixture. Add rhubarb, stir to coat, and pour into pastry-lined pie pan. Dot with butter, cover with lattice top, and bake until slightly brown, 400F for 40-60 minutes.

Simple Rhubarb Pie
4 c. chopped rhubarb
1 1/2 c. white sugar
6 T flour
1 T. butter
1 recipe for a 9-inch double pie crust

Preheat oven to 450 F.
Combine sugar and flour. Spread 1/4 of it over the pastry in pie plate. Add rhubarb over this mixture. Sprinkle top of rhubarb with remaining sugar mixture. Dot with small pieces of butter. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut venting slits in top.  Brush crust with milk and sprinkle generously with raw sugar/coarse sugar.
Place pie pan on cookie sheet in case it overflows. Place on lowest rack in oven. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce oven temp to 350 F -- -- I have forgotten that part! -- and continue baking 40-45 minutes.

Postscript: The custard didn't seem to set up, but I think it needs to bake longer than 45 minutes. I'd go for the full hour (covering the crust edge with foil), and maybe add a smidge more flour to the custard mix. Could be my rhubarb was juicier than normal. It was still delicious, just not as custard-y as it should be. Also, it might be best eaten after it cools/chills completely.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Lady of the Mist, just beginning to open... and
When we moved into our 100-year-old house, there were several roses on the south side of the house, near the bay window and along what was originally the front porch. Once we restored the old porch, we realized that the small rose languishing on the ground was actually an old climber. We lifted it onto a trellis, and it flourished. Very small pink roses bloomed in a sweet profusion, but it had no scent that we could detect. We thought it was an old rose, but weren't able to identify exactly what it was.

True confession: I haven't been a big rose enthusiast--our house in the Northwest was too shaded for roses beyond the old wild roses that grew there. And roses seemed a little too serious for my taste when I first started gardening. But a trip to England, where I saw roses growing over arches at Warwick Castle, began to change my mind. I found that I especially loved the big, dense 100-petal cabbage roses.

... day 2, a little more open. The color is amazing.
And the old rose next to our Victorian porch stirred a memory: When I was a child, my grandfather grew a huge, fragrant climbing rose next to his side porch. The petals rained down like snow and the rose's classic fragrance stayed with me all these years, linked with happy associations of my grandfather...which made me want to nurture a rose in to a wall of scent and color, as he did.

It was a good feeling to train that old, forgotten rose to climb the trellis next to our porch. There were also a number of low growing (no higher than 18" tall) roses meandering along the fence on the south side. I've found that they sucker like crazy, have extremely fine thorns (more like stickers on a thistle, than thorns), and produce small, heavily petaled pink roses that have a heavy, classic fragrance. They seem very old. (I once found an old celluloid hair pin among those roses and I like to think of Cora Hankins, who together with her husband was the house's first owner back in the early 1900s, planting and tending those roses so many years ago.)

The rose we'd lifted off the ground, near the porch, did very well until one extremely cold winter, when there was a lot of die back. Another rose--one planted right next to the bay window--also suffered a lot of cold damage. It was a deep red color, and had always been healthy. We were told that it was likely root stock that a rose had been grafted to. The grafted rose had died, and the old stock--probably a variety called Dr. Huey--had sent up new growth to proclaim its true identity.

But when both roses were damaged by cold weather, they didn't do well the following spring. The dainty pink climber failed to bloom much, and its leaves were diseased and yellowed. The Dr. Huey seemed prone to mildew, and barely bloomed. No matter what we did, neither returned to healthy growth habits. We hemmed and hawed for three years, nursing the roses with food, careful pruning, and inconspicuous pleading, hoping both would snap out of it. But last spring we decided it was time to replace the two climbing roses. I will admit that I had a hard time watching K dig them up--I felt as if we'd stirred a few gardening ghosts with those old roots, and I was sad to see such old plants hauled away.

We chose to buy roses that were own-root roses, and looked specifically for old, heirloom varieties. They start out a little more slowly than the big grafted varieties, but make up for their slight beginnings in a few years. Own-root roses tend to be hardier and healthier than roses grafted to other root stock.

I chose Madame Isaac Perier as the climber for the porch, and a rose called Lady of the Mist as the rose to plant next to the bay window. Mme Isaac Perier is a bright cerise "Bourbon" rose with a strong fragrance.  Bourbons are known for their large blossoms, fragrance, and repeat blooms. Bred in the 1880s, it's not technically a climber, but it grows tall and can be trained as one.

Lady of the Mist was hybridized by Harkness, in England, within the last decade. In one catalog it was classified as an heirloom, but I'm not sure about that. Still, given that the rose that was planted by the bay was perhaps not a very old rose, I decided to give myself a little latitude in its replacement.

Both roses were planted a year ago, when I added 1/2 c. Rocky Mountain Rose food, 1/4 cup of Epsom salt, and a healthy measure of compost to the large hole I dug for them.

The Madame Isaac Perier seemed very fragile when it arrived, and it didn't survive beyond the first month. But the Lady of the Mist sent up new growth and seemed happy next to the bay.

This spring, I cut back the dead part of the Lady of the Mist, fed it as soon as it began to bud leaves, and waited. A few weeks ago I noticed that its spindly single branch had produced five buds. Today, the first big bud opened. I had forgotten its name and its color after a year of waiting, and seeing that it was pink along the outside, and peach colored to the center, I found myself checking the tag. It's a beautiful rose, and I'm hoping that this is a good growth year for it.

Resolute, I put another Mme Isaac Perier own-root rose on the other side of the bay, but chose to go through a different seller--High Country Roses out of Denver. A rose-enthusiast friend (thank you, Charalotte) recommended them, and I spent some time this winter going through their website.

I chose American Beauty to go next to the porch. It dates to 1909--a nod to the year the house was built. It should be a strong climber, red with repeat blooms and a strong fragrance. I also added "Banshee"--which High Country Roses says may actually be something else, so they are calling it High Country Banshee. Its pink color reflects the color of the climber that was next to the porch originally, and it's a very old Damask rose.

Banshee and American Beauty both fit within a number of High Country roses that are grouped under the heading "Roses of Fairmount Cemetery." Here's what the site says about these roses:
Roses of Fairmount Cemetery
While not a class of roses in their own right, these roses are grouped together because they were found (un-named) in Denver's historic Fairmount Cemetery. They are undoubtedly Old Garden Roses and have survived the tests of time, weather extremes and neglect. Fairmount Cemetery was founded over 100 years ago and has a wonderful collection of mature trees, shrubs and roses in a beautiful setting. We grow a selection of the many un-named roses found there, including "Fairmount Red", "Fairmount Proserpine", "High Country Banshee", "Jeremiah Pink" and "JoAn's Pink Perpetual". Some of the known varieties found in the cemetery include Climbing American Beauty', 'Desiree Parmentier', 'Rose de Rescht', 'Paul's Scarlet Climber'.
And maybe that's what I like about roses--the history that fits within the folds of their blooms. I like thinking about the gardeners before me who planted and tended and nurtured their roses, through winters and summers, wars and world events. I've carefully planted them, and send encouragement to them as I pass by, these young branches of very old stock. I can't wait to see their blooms, and often stop and look at them for any sign of new growth.  Those shiny, new green leaves are signs that the rose is reaching roots into the soil where some very old cousins once grew, and I hope they are as long-lived as those that--perhaps--Cora planted. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Clipping Wings

Chickens on a hot tin roof. (L's photo)
Spring is full on, with summer crowding behind it like the hens crowd the gate. It has come early this year, and I'm racing to catch up with my gardening. Which means that the hens (and my blog) haven't had as much attention from me as they normally do.

The Littles have integrated with the Bigs, though peace is a bit tenuous. The Bigs are quick to let the Littles know that the line in the sand is wherever they want it to be, all the time. Pip seems most likely to push the limits. She was the first Little to perch on one of the favored roosts, and she hopped up there then looked around like, "What?! I can be here. It's a free country isn't it?"

Thelma was relatively quick to settle that question, pecking at her and sending her to a lower roost. For the most part, though, the Bigs have stopped chasing and pecking them, and all of them scratch and hop and roost together.

The long flight feathers, pre-clipping.
I watch them as I garden, scanning the run to see what they are doing when I hear an indignant cluck or a dust up over some morsel of a worm. For the most part though, things are pretty quiet in the coop right now.

But there are unexpected moments. One afternoon, not long after we put the Littles in with the Bigs, L comes running into the house. "Mom! The Norwegian chickens are on the roof!"

"What roof?" I ask.

"The roof of the garage!" L runs back out with my phone to take a picture.

I look out, and sure enough, Pip has joined her BFFs, and all three of them are wandering around on the roof of the garage like smug explorers in a newly discovered country.

Then they hop from the garage roof over to the coop roof, and fly light as swallows down to the backyard.

The Bigs angle their heads and watch, incredulous, from the confines of the chicken run. The Littles are among the lush lettuce heads and spinach sprouts, and they, the BIG chickens, are not. How can this be?!

Thelma, Louise, Mabel, and Violet crowd the gate and stare in disbelief. They shoulder each other and jockey for a viewing spot.

Lotte, Olga, and Pip strut casually past the gate, pecking at bugs, pulling up weeds, and rubbing it in.

I let them enjoy their moment of triumph, then head back inside for the scissors. I call M and ask if she can help me clip wings.

She and L will round up the high fliers and present them for this painless, but humbling, procedure. I clip just their flying feathers on one wing. Clipping one wing makes it difficult for them to balance and fly. Lotte squawks indignantly as I gently spread one of her wings. She pulls it back in, I pull it back out, and we repeat this until I take a slightly firmer hold. She looks alarmed. I clip, M puts her down, and she hurries off, completely unaware (until she attempts flight) that she's been grounded.

Pearl and Louise are the only hens left with their wings intact. L wants to show them in 4H, and she tells me you can't show a bird with clipped wings. Neither of them seems inclined to go tour the neighborhood. Yet.

With a scattering of discarded gray and buff bird feathers littering the patio, we're finished. We put the three errant birds back in the run, and they are back to being yard birds, instead of roof birds. I think the Bigs eye them with just a little more respect.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Surprise in the Chicken Coop

The Littles hang out while I tidy up the coop.
I'd been inside most of this morning, working on deadline, and my creativity and alertness needed a jump start. Caffeine wasn't doing it, music was distracting, and I found myself finding a million things to do at my desk other than stringing words together for the piece I was working on. My muse was slacking.

I decided it was time for a chicken break, and headed outside. The big hens came clucking to the gate, and I talked to them and stepped through my feathered welcoming committee to check their water and feed. First they reminded me that they needed some scratch grains. I stepped into the building where we keep the bins of feed, and as usual, Mabel and Violet followed me in, impatiently supervising, then hurried back out when I started tossing grain into the chicken yard.

With the hens occupied, I stepped into the coop for their waterers. The Littles, roosting, watched me with interest. It's always relaxing to visit with them.

We have two PVC pipe feeders. These clever feeders are made with large PVC pipe, set on end. One end is open at the top for filling, and there's a Y-pipe attached at the other end, so that gravity drops the feed into the angled opening at the end for the hens to help themselves. They waste much less food this way, and it means fewer trips to fill feeders. It had been a while since I topped them off, so I went back to the feed bin, filled a bucket, and carried it to the PVC pipe.

I was feeling relaxed, and talking to Pip and Lotte, who were watching me fill the pipe. As the feeder filled and the bucket emptied, the top of the feed neared the top of the pipe. I leaned forward to peer in, my nose just a few inches from the top of the pipe so that I could check the level. And suddenly there were three small mice peering at me from the feeder. They'd ridden the feed to the top like an elevator, and we were eye-to-eye.

Startled, I screamed indelicately, stepped backwards, knocked the newly filled waterer to the ground, and ran in place for an agitated moment shaking my arms, grimacing, and shuddering and sending hens scattering. If any of my neighbors would have seen me, I think they might have called 9-1-1 out of concern that I was having an attack of some sort.

I hurried from the run. "Ah!" I said to Mabel and Violet. "Ah! Ah! Ah!" I shuddered some more.

"All right, you little velociraptor, meat-eating T-Rex relatives," I said to them. "Go in there and get those mice!" They regarded me with interest to see if, when I flung my arms around hysterically, I'd tossed any food to the ground. Noting that I had not, they wandered off muttering and scratching, ignoring me.

I stood for a moment, and looked back, where now just one dusty mouse stood blinking at me. I shuddered again, then put the bucket away, and left the chickens and mice to work things out.

My muse was now wide awake, and my alertness sufficiently jump started. I sat back down in front of the computer and got back to work in my relatively quiet and surprise-free office. There have been times I've wished we had a video camera in the coop because of how entertaining my chickens are. However, perhaps it's good that no one saw that display of rodent-phobia. Note to self: add a screen to the top of pipe feeders, and have K check first to make sure they are mouse-less.

Friday, May 4, 2012

International Respect for Chickens Day

Clover (center) last summer with Gert and Marigold. Small, but holding her own.
I just learned from Sarah, at her Animals Help Heal blog, that today is International Respect for Chickens Day.

Sarah very kindly mentioned Coop & Cottage in her blog post about chickens used in therapy (and hers is an interesting blog, worth checking out). I didn't know that today was designated for chickens, so I Googled, and lo and behold, found this: United Poultry Concerns.

Maybe it's the whole Henny Penny fiasco, or Chicken Little, or Foghorn Leghorn, but chickens are not exactly high on the noble and dignified animal list. They are seen as flighty, messy, and not-too-smart. They get more respect on the table than they do in the yard.

But as I've written before, I tend to see them in a new light now that I have some fowl in the family.

Yes, they are messy. But their manure makes fabulous compost. And smart? My chickens are smart. You just have to spend some time with them to see their small brains working things out. My friend Betsy was telling me about a show she watched where someone trained chickens and proved how quickly they learn, but like all animals, their learning and behavior is based on survival. What may seem silly to our human minds is, if examined, actually very wise for life as a chicken.

They are flighty instinctively--they know they're viewed as prey, and if something seems suspicious to them, they aren't waiting around to see if it's friend or foe.

Yesterday, when the Littles were in the big yard, a bird flew overhead and sounded hawk-like. Lotte, Inga and Pip wasted no time getting beneath the lilac bush where a bird of prey would have little chance of grabbing one of them. A startling sound will have them all standing perfectly still, heads raised, listening. A dog in the next yard sends them to the coop's safety. A cat? Well, they have cats figured out. No worries there.

This morning I was watering lettuce and spring sprouts in the garden, and pondering the topic of respect for chickens. I watched the Bigs running around in the chicken yard. Thelma has become a bit bossy, and she was running Pearl around, then chased Mabel, and ran off Oreo.

Clover, a Bantam who is just a little bigger than Pearl, and about one-third the size of Thelma, decided she'd had enough of Thelma's behavior. She ran up to her, her feathers as fluffed as could be, her neck stretched tall, hackles standing like a lion's mane around her neck, her wings lifted. She looked really annoyed. Thelma responded in kind, fluffing her own feathers importantly.

They ran at each other and bumped chests several times (Clover had to hop up in the air to actually bump chests with Thelma), and it became pretty clear that Clover was not. backing. down in this little sparring session. Thelma tried one last time to bluster Clover into submission, then she realized she'd lost this little game of... well... chicken. She wandered off, maybe just a little humbled.

I laughed at Clover. Now there's a little hen who demands respect.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mean Girls: The Bigs and the Littles

The Littles: Under protective custody.
Things are not so harmonious in the hen house right now. There are the "Bigs" and the "Littles" and the Bigs are behaving like bullies.

The "Littles" are the two Jaerhons, Inga and Lotte; and the mystery hen, recently named Pippa. (Pearl seems to be joining their ranks, as well, though I'm not sure why.)

The three Littles have been housed in a large wire dog crate inside the coop. They have their own food, water, and roost. Theoretically, this will introduce them to the rest of the flock gradually. But they've been in there for weeks, and all attempts at integration have been dismal.

In the past, when we've integrated new hens, there have been a few days of orientation for the new birds, something like sorority initiation. The established flock makes it clear that the newcomers are low on the pecking order, and the newcomers avoid getting in the line of sight of the mean girls, and eventually they all settle in. Within a few months they are roost-mates, primping and gossiping and sharing lunch.

But this time, Mabel and Thelma, who are low on the Big pecking order, seem to be leading the mean-girl charge. I'll let the Littles out of their crate while I'm outside watering in the morning. The Bigs leave them alone at first. Then Mabel takes herself into the run looking for a Little to pick on. She pecks Pippa hard. Pippa squawks and runs for the crate. Inga and Lottie, alarmed, run into the coop. Mabel pecks them for good measure as they run by. Squawk. Squawk. If she could toss her feathers and stick her beak in the air, it would complete the picture. As if I don't have enough girl drama in my life right now. I scold her, which of course is about as effective as when I scold M&L for bickering. Makes me feel better, anyhow.

Mabel goes back to scratching for grains. The Littles wander out again, tentatively, then Thelma chases them from the run into the yard, and looks pleased with herself. Mabel, alerted, takes off after the three hapless victims, and pretty soon they are back in their crate, and Thelma is walking around in the crate with them like an inspector thinking about evicting them.

Exasperated, I decide to close the Bigs out of the run/coop, so that the Littles can have some time in the run without being harassed. I leave Pearl with them because for some reason, Thelma has been picking on her as well.

I go back to watering and weeding. I really would like to take the crate out and have one big happy family. But maybe I need to let the Littles get bigger, so they peck back. I mull this over, feeling like I'm trying to figure out a parenting dilemma. In that case, I'm trying to get into the psyche of an 11- or 13-year-old. In this case, I'm trying to delve through the mysteries of a chicken psyche. Maybe they are the same.

We have closed the hens into a smaller space in the last few weeks, in order to give our garden time to sprout and mature, and our grass time to recover. They've overgrazed it, and it's looking raggedy. I wonder if part of the pecking problem is space related. If M&L are confined to a small space (like the house on a rainy day) they pick at each other like... well, like Mabel and Thelma peck at the Littles.

I glance over at the run again. Even mild-mannered Oreo seems a little bit grouchy. And Pearl joined the outcast Littles about the time that I put everyone on lock down.

I'm not sure how to solve the space problem, but I think I may give everyone--Bigs and Littles--free rein of the entire yard just before sunset tonight. Maybe an hour with more space will clear the air a bit. I can do some work in the yard to keep an eye on my lettuce sprouts, and I can try to herd them toward the weeds for a little weed control.

We'll see how it goes. Who knows... maybe parenting wisdom can apply to poultry?

Postscript:  Last night we let everyone out into the backyard to free range. The Bigs were happy and gobbling up green weeds, grass, bugs, and worms. The Littles looked like three teenage girls at their first dance: they went everywhere together. Thelma and Mabel did take a few runs at the Littles, but mostly they were too busy eating to really pay them much attention. Every once in a while we'd see the three Littles come flying from somewhere, with a large hen behind them, but they soon figured out that they were faster than the Bigs. So finally, peace in the flock and happy hens. I'll be glad when we're able to let them out for longer.