I’ve never understood fat dogs. Chubby dogs, sure, but those really fat ones that are clearly collapsing under their own weight? Come on. Dogs only eat what you give them; once they get spherical, give them less. It’s really hard (at least for me) to keep yourself from getting fat because you have unlimited access to the smorgasbord that is modern life, but your dog? Just say no.
It’s much easier to call on your animals to be abstemious than to be abstemious yourself. I’m not big on deprivation, but I’m perfectly happy to inflict it on my livestock. That’s why there’s no heat in our chicken coop. They’re chickens. They can tough it out.
It’s also why we’ve done without one of those gizmos that heats the water. It’s easy enough to keep two waterers, one in the run and one in the house, and switch them out when the water freezes. It means that, sometimes, the water will freeze and the chickens will have to be thirsty for a while until we come out and change it, but they’re chickens. They can tough it out.
It’s not that I’m unconcerned with my chickens’ thirst; I don’t like the idea of their being waterless for more than an hour or so. It’s that, somehow, a water heater seems like a luxury and I have this deeply ingrained idea that chicken coops should be hardscrabble and make-do. Today, it’s the water heater. Tomorrow, it’s hardwood floors and granite countertops.
We had the discussion about the water heater again a few days ago and, when I made the case against chicken coop luxuries, Kevin asked the critical question: Whose luxury is it?
We know a surprising number of people who are considering getting chickens, and we’ve given many tours of Kevin’s (award-winning!) coop and run. The first thing he tells prospective coop designers is that you don’t design your coop for your chickens. Chickens will live happily in just about any enclosed space. You design your coop for yourself.
It needs to be easy for you to give them fresh food and water. Its nest boxes should be easily accessible for egg collection. It has to be economical to build, simple to maintain, convenient to clean. Chickens don’t care about any of those things, but chicken owners deal with them daily.
A water heater is on the long list of things chickens don’t care about. As long as they have unfrozen water most of the time, they’re perfectly happy. But if they only way to make that happen is to go out there once or twice a day with a thawed waterer, you might start to care. Ever see Jean de Florette?
It wasn’t the actual carrying of the water that I started to care about; it was the requirement that we had to be here to do it. It meant that we couldn’t leave the property for much longer than it took for a double-hulled galvanized waterer to freeze over. Being gone overnight, if temperatures were low, was out of the question.
Yesterday morning, Kevin had a crack-of-dawn flight out of Logan, and our friends Doug and Dianne invited us to spend the night before with them at their apartment in the North End. Doug was thinking about cooking duck breast, and there was talk of a fennel and citrus salad. But it meant not being home in the morning.
No chicken water heater, no duck breast. No fennel and citrus salad. Instead of a lovely evening with friends, we’d be facing a 4:00 AM drive to Boston.
We bought the heater.
And although I didn’t buy it to spare myself the labor of the water switch-out, I’m finding not having to do it luxurious indeed. Now I’m seriously considering hardwood floors and granite countertops.