It was a better day for chicken soup than live chicken deliveries.
The weather could hardly have been worse here in the north shore jungle of Panay Island in the Philippines.
That’s where we we’ve been waiting for the ‘ready to lay’ (eggs) hens to be delivered; part of the improvement and repair projects we’ve sponsored for the local, indigenous Ati tribe with the help of many generous overseas donors.
When the chicken delivery truck finally did arrive around 1:00 p.m., the rain had already been falling heavily for hours. The footpath up to the recently completed hen house was like a raging stream.
Yet when the dampened chickens arrived safely at their new home they were already laying dozens of eggs.
Chicken soup for the soul, Ati style
First a delay, then lots of rain
The latest chapter in the Ati hen house project actually began yesterday – as did rain, courtesy of a large low pressure system. The chicken farm representative, Robert, had told us to expect the delivery Tuesday, July 28. But the wet weather slowed the truck carrying over 2,000 birds as it made numerous other delivery stops en route to us.
Robert called around 3:30 p.m. and said some of the bird drops – including ours – would be pushed back until today. The chickens would spend the wet night caged on the truck. The dozen Ati ‘carriers’ we had assembled to take the hens up to the hilltop house were told to come back in the morning.
The rain picked up overnight. This morning, I made a splashy bicycle ride to the agreed ‘drop spot’ where the paved road turns to gravel, then a dirt path leads up to the Ati village.
Waiting for the chickens
The group of carriers had assembled again, this time at a nearby covered table attached to the convenience store of my Filipino friend Juli Calvario. A few of the guys were drinking rum at 10:00 a.m. to “keep warm”.
Although wet, with temperatures in the 80’s, I was plenty warm. And thankfully, Juli was allowing his property to be used during the daylong downpour as a staging area for the whole exercise. He even offered plastic sheeting and bamboo poles to help with transport.
When we got word that the chicken truck was an hour away, my wife, Ellen, and my mom (who’s been stuck here with us since the pandemic began) made their way with ponchos and umbrella to join the soggy scene. Some of the Ati leadership council also arrived to watch.
Yet another challenge
Unfortunately, the truck turned out to be too high for the low wires on the side road leading to the drop spot. We scrambled several Ati-owned tricycles (motorcycles with big sidecars) to shuttle the 14 plastic crates each containing 10 hens to Juli’s yard.
From there, the carriers would walk the birds a mile-and-a-half up the the uneven, rain-slicked, jungle path to the hen house.
I followed along in a rain poncho taking pictures. At the steepest points the runoff came down the trail like a waterfall. I was amazed at how easily the Ati carriers (many barefoot) negotiated the mud and rocks and floating debris.
They took a few breaks en route and the rain did lessen during the trip. Only once did a guy slip and fall – then bounce back up and continue. He assured me at the top he was uninjured (chickens too).
Upon reaching the hen house, each hen was carefully removed from its transport crate, inspected, and placed into the coop.
Company rep, Robert, now soaking wet, was there to oversee and assist. In about 20 minutes, all the birds were settled in.
Home sweet home
The white hens (Lohmann Classic breed) did look a little wet and dirty. But Robert showed me their sensitive underbellies and underwings were dry and said they would naturally groom themselves in the coming days.
It will take up to two weeks for them to truly ‘get comfortable’ in their new surroundings. Still, they were already laying eggs.
I gave each of the Ati carriers 100 Pesos ($2) for their help (the daily labor wage is $5) and they took the plastic crates back down the mountain in light rain. One of the carriers asked if he could take some eggs and seemed more grateful for them than the money.
When I left the hen house over an hour later, the birds were eagerly eating the first feed that caretaker, Uncle Nilo, had put into the feed trays. Chicken poop was starting to drop onto the vinyl floor covers. And eggs continued to roll out of various cages.
I actually counted more than 40 medium-to-large size eggs collected in total – and at Nilo’s urging, took eight home with me. Some were still warm. Egg size should increase slightly once the hens are completely settled. Now the Ati will arrange to supply some of the numerous small, sari-sari (convenience) stores nearby.
As I walked back down in fine drizzle to my bike in Juli’s yard, I couldn’t help but proudly replay the hen house project, start to finish, in my mind.
And later Ellen exclaimed how miraculous it is that a city slicker, news photographer from Cleveland, Ohio, could oversee the construction of an egg/hen house business for a native tribe on a remote mountainside in the Philippines during a global pandemic. Pretty impressive indeed… lol… and fun!
Of course, it was made possible by the financial donations of dozens of friends and family and complete strangers; readers of our blog. Thank you all so very much. The Ati are very happy and I was thanked profusely again today, as always.
Naturally, I will be following up on the hen house operations in coming weeks and months – but the day-to-day work will be Ati business.
Besides, we still have money in the budget for other Ati sustainability projects like drinking water and electric service. And we want to get those online before the seasonal rains increase even more.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trail & more beer.
Life is NOW!
Thanks for reading, “Chicken soup for the soul, Ati style.”
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