You’d think the chickens would be perfectly happy hanging out in their henhouse and large, shady fenced-in run, especially on days like these. When one of us ventures inside to check for eggs or to bring the chickens treats of cooked rice, say, or heads of bolted lettuce (far too bitter for human consumption, but the chickens don’t mind), it’s easy to languish in the relative coolness of their enclosure.

The hens, however, disagree. If they could learn to speak, the first words they’d utter would no doubt be: “Let me out!”

We don’t release them from their perceived prison until around noon. While they await that magical hour, they squawk like the devil – we can hear them clear out in the fields. Then, as soon as they see one of us heading for the door to the run, they go almost completely quiet knowing they’ll soon need to make a dash for it (lest we change our minds, I suppose…even though we never, ever, ever do).

For some reason, both Farmer John and I needlessly sing out “C’mon girls!” when we open the door. As if the chickens are waiting for our permission.

We know better, of course.

Still, almost every day at least a couple birds get so excited they forget where the exit door is located. A friend of ours claims that chickens have excellent memories – and considering that she has upwards of 200 hens whereas we have only ten, she probably knows what she’s talking about – yet sometimes, when we do have to give a frustrated chicken or two a little guidance,

I can’t help but kind of wonder.

That they want to leave their shady space for the heat and blaring sunshine they encounter as soon as they’re outside the run is another head-scratcher. Imagine for a moment being wrapped in a thick layer of feathers this time of year. It seems a cruel joke Mother Nature has played on chickens, allowing them to molt only in the fall. Unlike dogs or cats who start to shed at the first hint of summer, chickens are forced to wear their “coats” throughout the hottest months of the year.

Which is why these days we generally see them with their wings held away from their sides, their mouths agape.

It’s an unfortunate circumstance for our chickens that they happened to end up in Central Texas in the summertime. Could be worse, though. They might have been hatched inside a windowless factory farm – anywhere in the country – where they’d be trapped in a much more desperate prison than the one they imagine their big shady henhouse to be, and would never so much as set foot on the ground. Forget ever experiencing the joy and excitement of scrambling out of the run every day. Forget ever experiencing joy at all.

That’s not to say their circumstances couldn’t be better than they are now. They could. Like if they’d emerged from their shells in Ireland, for example, as did these lucky chickens photographed by customer Martha during her recent vacation to the lush green coolness of that country.

I think we’ll keep this our little secret, though, shall we? Our hens are suffering enough – there’s no need to rub it in.

In an attempt to comfort our poor girls, John has created a cooling spot in a cranny on the north side of our house complete with a big tub he keeps full of fresh water.

It’s like their own personal spa. The hens spend the better part of the late afternoon here every day.

And no, Miss Wattles hasn’t expired from heat exhaustion (so far). She’s simply practicing some essential chicken hygiene. It’s a well-known fact that the best way to end a satisfying spa day is to cap it off with a good dust bath. To get the most of it, after digging a perfectly hen-sized indentation into dry ground,

it’s just a slight roll to one side and a fluff, fluff, fluff to get that dirt good and embedded in the feathers. Ahhhhhhhh.

That probably is pretty darned refreshing, yet I think Miss Red has it really figured out. While the other chickens gather around the water cooler every afternoon (discussing the previous night’s American Idol perhaps, or Dancing With the Stars?), Miss Red marches right past them and gets into the tub. It may not be a cool Irish spring,

but it ain’t half bad either.

* * *

Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the Jollyville Road stand this Wednesday:

Tomatoes (though not as many as last week) – big slicer Bella Rosa, as well as Early Girls, Italian Bolseno, French Marmande, high-acid Defiant, and heirloom Cherokee Purple; green tomatoes; cherry tomatoes; freshly dug new potatoes – Yukon Gold and Red Lasoda; super sweet Yellow Granex onions; bunches of basil; fresh elephant garlic; bell peppers; the first of the Cubanelle peppers (perfect for stir-fry or for stuffing); bunches of beets from our friends at Tecolote Farm (we hope! – we’re still waiting to find out for sure); bags of arugula; a bit of squash; and anything else we might be able to scrounge up.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)