Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chicken Fun

            I don’t know how we fully enjoyed life before we had chickens.  Morning coffee couldn’t get much better as we watch the mixed flock of Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orphingtons, and Araucana hens and roosters fresh from the roost. 

They start their morning on the back porch, which I found odd until I got up earlier than they one morning and discovered a porch speckled with lightly toasted June bugs the toads hadn’t eaten. Enjoying cooked food, the hens and their two roosters race first thing for these unusual culinary delights.  After finishing these crunchy snacks, the ladies and their gents head to the back yard, scratching through the cedar duff and the flower bed mulch for additional treats. 

            The girls definitely prefer to do their foraging in the pre-eighty degree temperatures of morning.  By mid-day, all of them find the coolest spot they can under a huge cedar tree by the porch.  I suppose they prefer to rest near the house so they don’t have to worry about predators while under Tucker the watchdog’s careful eye, and, most importantly, they will be close by when I walk out the door with a fresh watermelon or cantaloupe rinds.  They especially love fridge cleaning or old bread tossing days. 

            What begins as restful, settling murmurs and cackles rapidly turns into a squawk fest.  The momma hen, jealously guarding her half grown chick, leads him away from the horde so her baby doesn’t get trampled in the stampede for leftovers.  I try to broadcast the goodies in a wide arc so all chickens get a fair chance, but as in the human world, we have a couple of hens who try to have it all.  They run around grabbing bits of goodies from other chickens’ beaks, but in the end often end up with less than the others got or none at all.

            Once the feast ends, the girls settle themselves back into their beauty rest.  Watching them situate themselves provides its own entertainment.  The hens scratch the powdery dust before gracefully lowering their ungainly bodies into that loose earth.  As they settle, they create miniature dust storms.  Once they’re arranged satisfactorily, the quiet murmuring begins again—a nice counter balance to the drone of locusts.

            Not only do the chickens entertain me with their eating and resting rituals. Some of them have intriguing egg laying habits.  In the corner of our patio, we have a chimenea, which these hens consider an alternative nesting box.  Some hens consider it easier to pop into the round-bellied fireplace to lay an egg than to return to the egg boxes in the chicken house.  The first time I saw my hen settle into the sandy bottomed fireplace, I burst into laughter.  Now it's common place to look there for an egg or so each day.  
One lazy girl laid one in the middle o f the yard the other day.  I guess she chased one bug too many.

            To add to the entertainment, we decided to set one of the hens who wanted to nest rather than buying chicks and placing them under lights in the garage.  Our first experiment got a bit too exciting due to a bull snake invasion.  The momma did her job just fine until a six foot bull snake weaseled his way into her protected nesting area.   The gluttonous reptile swallowed four of her eggs before my husband caught it with the eggs in it. The snake must have frightened the hen enough that she let all but one of the remaining eggs get too cold.  When hatch day arrived, only one tiny chick picked its way out.

            A few weeks ago another hen announced her desire to set on a clutch of eggs by pecking me every afternoon when I went out to gather eggs.  We set her up in the special nesting site, and we’ll know Friday the 13th whether or not we have another lucky momma hen. 

            While the roosters make great alarm clocks each dawn, and the whole flock does a bang-up job reducing grasshopper populations while producing orange-yolked protein products, I most enjoy my chickens because they remind me to settle back and relish the moment.  Who needs tranquilizers when a flock of chickens can calm you down in a flash, make you laugh, and deliver several dozen eggs a week?


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