Free Range


Free Range is defined by dictionary.com as:
1. (of livestock and domestic poultry) permitted to graze or forage for grain, etc., rather than being confined to a feedlot or a small enclosure: a free-range pig.
2. of, pertaining to, or produced by free-range animals: free-range eggs.

Last Sunday, Pat and I delivered bags of sawdust from Pat’s workshop to Pastured Penney’s Free Range Eggs. They have about 500 chicks that love my husband’s sawdust. In a few weeks they will be joining about 400 other hens already enjoying life on a farm where they can forage for food in the grass, the scrub, and the woods.

When we walked out to meet the adult hens, I expected them to, at best, ignore us and, at worst, run from us. I did not expect the greeting we got.

Instead of running from us, the ran to us. They
surrounded us, fascinated with our shoes, pecking at our legs and were intent on untying Pat’s shoelaces. It was hard to walk with hundreds of happy hens hanging at our feet.

There is something magical about seeing well-cared for animals contentedly pecking at the soles of your shoes. I cannot explain it–it is just a sense of rightness with the world that these hens should run across a field, compelled by curiosity, nearly frantic to be the first to discover just what kind of shoes their visitors are wearing.

Having just done something rather extraordinary for me–I decided to take a 6-month leave of absence from work–the sheer joy of these hens instantly became symbolic. Unconfined, unconstrained, free to travel wherever their two feet and wings will take them, they flourish.

I found myself thinking of the difference between corporate hens stuck in tiny cubicles they can barely turn around in and pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to keep them alive and producing eggs in horrible living conditions versus these hens, full of joie de vivre.

I could not help but think of my own range having expanded from the virtual cubicle to the pasture, the woods, and and the world. I have been asked several times now how I feel knowing I do not have to boot up the corporate computer on Monday morning. I’m not sure how I feel yet. But Monday morning . . . well, Monday morning will be the test. That will be the day that everything feels different.

What do I feel? Well, there is the fear of being replaceable, interchangeable, just another laying hen. There is the joy of suddenly owning my own time for the first time in about . . . my lifetime. There is the simultaneous wonder and terror that anything is possible. Free ranging means both endless possibility and endless responsibility. I own my future–at least for 6 months. I am left with no excuses, no hindrances, no scapegoat. I wonder how a corporate hen would feel being let out of her cage for the first time?