The Mast-Head: Playing the Farmer

   A dozen eggs were on the counter waiting for me when I walked into Crossroads Music on Monday night. Michael Clark, the proprietor, had read a recent lament in these pages in which I had observed that my home hens had taken the winter off.
    Lisa and I take our older kids to the shop one evening a week for music lessons, and Michael had resolved to share the bounty of his younger birds. I can sympathize; when our flock was in its first laying year, we had so many eggs that we tried to give them once a week to the East Hampton Food Pantry.
    Those were the days, though our hens’ decline is not unexpected. Having had chickens as a child, I remember that after a couple of years production trailed off. They freeloaded out their days, pecking at their feed and offering us only the entertainment of watching their regular squabbles.
    Even if impractical and expensive, there is a certain satisfaction in keeping a flock of chickens around. As a side result, I have become much more aware of our neigboring ecosystem. I fret that predators will somehow get through the wire fencing. All of a sudden in the last few weeks there have been raccoons about, knocking over the garbage cans and slinking along Cranberry Hole Road after dark. There are signs that mice hang around the shed where I keep feed, searching for fallen grains. Hawks greedily drift by overhead. A weasel’s tracks show up in the snow.
    The two roosters begin to crow before dawn. We have gotten used to their noise. I let them out when it’s time to wake the kids up for school, then refill the water and feeder.
    Well before nightfall, the birds will hop to their roosts. I release a ring on the outside of their yard to shut their steel-lined door, keeping varmints out and the cocks’ racket inside. It’s a nice routine. Sometimes lately, I’ve been getting eggs; mostly I just play farmer.
    On Tuesday I fried two of Michael’s dozen for breakfast. By coincidence, there were four eggs in our coop. It was as if our birds were trying to tell me something.