Cooped up backyard chickens revel in the melting snow

Borden - chicken in coop

I returned Wednesday to Ann Arbor from a week away. I left town with snowdrifts and nary a sight of grass or earth anywhere. I return to puddles, calcifying stalagmites of gray snow forms and soil once again visible in our back garden. The soft breeze and the smell of warming earth enveloped me on Thursday as I went out to open the coop for the chickens.

I am reading Joel Salatin’s "The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer," and he describes the joy he experiences moving chickens onto fresh earth. “The unbridled delight these animals express through their demeanor and antics when offered a fresh salad bar is both obvious and palpable. You can feel the happiness in the flock.”

Happiness I felt, and happiness I want to share.

Given the state of the weather and my girls’ unwillingness to venture onto deep snow, there had been very little happiness these past few weeks in the flock. One gets a whole new appreciation for the term cooped up when you open the door to a coop that has been lived in 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. Usually our girls are outside during the day, but not when there is snow on the ground – they don’t like walking on deep snow because their legs are so short.

Our girls knew something was different today. Instead of clustering on the spilled sawdust around their coop door, they all paused – heads high, beaks in the air. One ventured onto my path of trodden snow towards the dirt closer to the house, and, suddenly, a fluttering barrage of feathers and flapping wings launched themselves towards the soft wet earth.

It was a struggle to tear myself away from watching their evident contentment and thrill at being able once again to scratch and dig into earth not covered in snow.

One girl took such obvious pleasure in burrowing into the soft warming soil, I could almost feel the nooks and crannies of my feathers being dusted by the earth.

I know, being human, we have weeks of snow and cold ahead of us. Yet this week my backyard chickens were able to dig in the soil, the pendulum is swinging towards spring.

Their clucking pleasure was a huge gift. I don’t imagine chickens have any sense of time. So for my backyard chickens, the moments of digging and bathing in the soil in our temporary respite from winter this week lasted for eternity.

I can only hope.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.