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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Animal House

Air Date: Week of

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When you live on a farm, animal housing becomes as important as human shelter. Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg stays awake some nights worrying about these creature comforts.


CURWOOD: On a farm, animal housing can be as important as human shelter. And worrying about these comforts for creatures is what keeps farmer and Living on Earth commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg up late some nights.

KLINKENBORG: When I first moved to the country, more than a dozen years ago, a realtor showed me a grand old farmhouse with an attached barn. The realtor was dreaming to think that I could afford it. But in the way of too-expensive dreams, the memory of that place has stuck with me, especially the thought of walking through what looked like a closet door off the kitchen and being swallowed by the cavernous maw of a beautiful, well-worn dairy barn. The reason I still think about that place is for the simple pleasure of having the animals so close, so collectively, so cooperatively housed.

As time passes here, I notice that we're accumulating a lot of small animal shelters, most of which I have built myself. It begins to look like musical chairs. Until the new pigs come next month, the ducks and geese, which are only a few weeks old, are borrowing the pig house. The old and new chicken houses are vacant now so the winter chicken yard can get some rest. The birds are out on pasture, which they share with the horses.

The first thing I built when we got chickens was a chicken tractor— a small cage designed to be moved daily to fresh grass. I read the books and built what they told me to. It was way too heavy and somehow not very chicken-like. I took it apart the other day and rebuilt it according to my knowledge of chickens, not books. It comes as a surprise to realize that I can now predict what chickens want in the way of housing, but it's true, as far as it goes. I show them just what's in their price range, nothing more. How far down this road I've gone became plain when I realized, with satisfaction, that I'd built the new chicken-tractor entirely out of scrap. The chickens seem proud of it too.

Domestic animals are the ones we build houses for. Wild animals make their own arrangements, consulting only their own needs. The point was brought home to me recently. I'd been waking up in the middle of the night, wondering just how to refashion that chicken tractor. I'd worked up a dozen different versions in my head. One morning last week, my wife and I walked around the garden, just to see what had grown in the night. We stopped to admire a Korean fir she had got me for my birthday last year. Together, Lindy and I looked down into the boughs and there, in a fork near the trunk, was a bird's nest with four tiny azure eggs inside, a demitasse of horse-hair, grass, and lichen, perfectly-wrought, and all from scrap.

[MUSIC: Tony Trischka & Bela Fleck “Ruben’s Wah Wah” Solo Banjo Works Rounder Records (1992)]

CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for The New York Times.




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