Cleaning the Coop

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Temperatures rise, snow banks settle and meltwater pours off the roof, an annual reminder to clean the chicken coop. Putting off this task produces aromatic reminders that neither urban chicken farmers nor neighbors can ignore. So, recently, I found myself up to the labels on my Xtratufs, mucking out my shed where the flock resides in winter.

 

Every spring, coop cleaning coincides with the final weeks of the Alaska legislature’s regular session. As I haul bucketloads of the finest fertilizer to my compost pile, I’m reminded of a similar mess in Juneau. It’s a defining moment in which I recognize the parallels between maintaining a chicken coop and monitoring our legislature. This year, like last year, legislators are standing in a mess, but in wingtips and Jimmy Choos, and without a shovel. Meanwhile, the deficit that piles up around them — nearly $3 billion and rising — isn’t spun into black gold as easily as composted chicken manure. Juneau’s chicken coop needs a spring cleaning.

Unfortunately, state elections occur in fall, 2018. As far away as that may seem, now is the time to note which legislators focus on laying eggs for Alaska’s future, and which legislators merely add to the deficit mess. What should we watch for as we select candidates to replace our aging flock of politicians? With chickens, we consider three criteria: production, hardiness and temperament.

The worst problem to plague hen houses and legislative houses alike is declining egg production. As they age, hens produce fewer eggs. When this occurs, the flock must be rotated. While two-year-old hens are nearly inedible, they make succulent chicken broth when simmered with carrots, celery and onion. When our hens’ production declines a little over a year from now, we’ll make chicken soup.

When evaluating for production, colorful eggs appeal to our exotic side, but some chickens that lay them are less hardy. Select varieties lay large eggs regularly, such as Barred Rocks and Buff Orpingtons. But even strong layers can create havoc. One of the best layers, Delawares, are egg eaters. Alaska saw a few Delawares in its legislative past, some of whom misappropriated public money on boondoggles. If you detect a Delaware in the flock, get rid of it. Also, Rhode Island Reds are excellent producers, but mean. They bully, hover over the nest, and peck the hands that feed them.

Similarly, don’t be fooled by flamboyance. Avoid chickens with showy combs. They look impressive, but flashy head ornaments freeze in winter. Avoid the bouffant-like combs displayed by Silkies and Naked Necks. Instead, choose heavy-bodied birds with sensible crowns worn by Black Austrolorps and Ameracaunas.

Which leads to the third selection criteria — temperament. The ideal bird is one that integrates with the flock, is assertive but not aggressive, vocal but not disruptive, good-natured, and not broody. Note which hens turn broody and sit on a nest of unfertilized eggs, like a legislator hoping oil prices will rise. Hens produce no eggs during a broody stage. Cinnamon Queens and Buffs are sweet birds that coalesce as a team and focus on laying. The hen house is a civilized place when you select for peace and productivity.

But even careful chicken farmers must watch for roosters. Roosters are arrogant bullies, and, being male, produce no eggs. Instead, they strut and crow and battle for leadership. Roosters aren’t needed to produce eggs because hens lay eggs without a rooster’s presence. In other words, roosters draw salaries without contributing.

At times, both coops and legislatures experience production declines, power plays, and lurking roosters. Currently, legislators brood over protecting Alaska’s nest egg and refilling the pipeline with the next Prudhoe Bay. But sitting on an egg or hoping for another boom works neither in Juneau nor in a chicken coop.

Such situations lead to deep coop crisis, an ongoing problem in Juneau. So apply a chicken farmer’s criteria to legislative performance. Note who works together to promote solutions versus who squawks raucously but merely adds to the fiscal mess. In 2018, vote for candidates who are team players and will lay eggs for Alaska’s future. Beware of roosters. And for those unproductive candidates who’ve stopped laying? Soup’s on!

• Thomas Pease lives in Anchorage, where he teaches English, tends his chicken coop, and tries to monitor the Alaska legislature.

 


 

• Thomas Pease lives in Anchorage, where he teaches English, tends his chicken coop, and tries to monitor the Alaska legislature.

 


 

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