Finding the Zen in chicken poop

My hopes of being a beekeeper instead of a beehaver are over.

My hopes of being a beekeeper instead of a beehaver are over.

When I held my ear to the hives in mid-February I was reassured by the low hum of buzzing inside. The next time I checked all three were silent.  A quick heft of the hives told me plenty of honey was still inside so despite the unsettling quiet I hoped for the best.

When the temperatures finally climbed high enough to look inside my worst fears were confirmed.

I thought I might lose one but to lose all three feels both discouraging and shameful. I must have done something terribly wrong, but what?

I just read in the newspaper that a new bee (newbie?) club is starting up in a nearby city. I am hoping that I’ll find my answers there. I have already ordered replacements that will be arriving about the same time you’re reading this. Now that I have invested in all the equipment I can’t very well give up. Besides, I can no longer imagine our place without them.

Our other animals pulled through the winter — so it’s not all bad news. There have been a few health issues sprinkled about but on the whole things are looking good.  Crayola — the dog we inherited as a four year old when Darcy’s dad passed away — is now 16.  She spends a lot of time napping and is a bit slow to get up but once she gets the kinks out she is still capable of running around like a puppy. Sometimes a little too much like a puppy.

We keep our winter hay in the fenced vegetable garden to thwart the moose and deer. Every day Crayola — who has never been able to resist an open gate — bounds inside to snuffle about. When I’ve finished getting the hay I swing out the gate and turn around to call Crayola so she won’t get shut inside.

Yesterday I swung out the gate, but before I could turn around to call her Crayola came streaking forward as if she had been shot out of a cannon. To my great surprise she slammed into the back of my knees sending me sprawling in the spring muck.

Maybe she’s losing her sight or her brain commands are no longer firing correctly. Or maybe bowling over the human was simply on her bucket list.

As I watched her golden body streak away up the drive, it was hard to stay mad. When you’re 112 in human years you can get away with almost anything. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be turning my back on her again anytime soon. I picked myself up and decided that since I was already about as filthy as I could get, I might as well clean out the chicken coop.

I once read a book where the author described spring coop cleaning as a Zen-like experience. That might sound a little goofy, but I think I know what the writer meant.  Throughout the winter I spot clean the coop, taking out the dirtiest patches of straw and replacing them with fresh layers. In the spring everything goes. Even the chickens are shooed out into their run. Layers of chicken poop and straw are wheel barrowed away and the floor is swept clean from corner to corner. It’s a complete renewal perfectly suited to the season.

And so with rejuvenating Zen thoughts flitting about my head, I set about cleaning the coop. Lost in a kind of mindless meditation I removed the feeders and flipped up the pallet I keep them on so the chickens won’t fill them with straw. And that’s when I made a rather interesting discovery.

It’s impossible to maintain a state of Zen-like tranquility when a mouse runs over your boot. You don’t see too many Zen masters leaping into the air screaming with their arms flailing about their heads. I didn’t relax again until the floorboards were bare and I was certain the mouse had left the building.

Armed with a hot sudsy bucket of water I proceeded to scrub the walls, nests and roosts and shine the windows to a sparkle. The coop was aired out, fresh bedding put down, cleaned feeders and water fountain put back in place and the flock invited back in. The whole process — with the very notable exception of Mr. Mouse — was surprisingly calming and satisfying. And no, I won’t clean your coop. One calming and satisfying Zen experience per spring is enough.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from northern B.C.  You can read more of her writing at

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