Happy Peeps

August 29, 2011

What Chickens Want

In 2000, Mel Gibson played a lovable jerk of a guy in What Women Want, who serendipitously is given the “gift” of being able to hear women’s thoughts, and thereby understand how women think.  I thought of this movie today when I was watching our hens; imagine being able to understand what’s going on in those tiny heads!  The way they appear to haphazardly run around from one thing to the next, you might suspect they have no thought processes at all. On the other hand, there are those moments when they do something so comical it’s hard not to assign some humanistic quality to their actions.  For instance, about the time when they reached the laying stage, we realized they were instinctively looking at us as the roosters among them – when we approach, they go into a squat position, shake their booties and spread their wings out a little, getting into ‘position.’  Since we don’t have a rooster any longer, we thought what the heck, give ‘em a little pat on the rear end a few times, try to assimilate what it is they’re expecting, and see what happens. The first time we tried this, our little red hen stood back up to her fullest height once our pat-down subsided, and fluffed out her feathers with a bit of a shake and shiver. I wanted to offer her a cigarette. All the other hens gathered around her, making questioning sounds as she strutted her stuff (“How was it? Did it hurt? Was it good?”) It was so comical to watch.

But seriously, what do chickens want?  I don’t know about city chickens who can’t leave their small coops, but our chickens clearly enjoy free ranging. They call us and stand by the door of the run, and when I open it, they literally run out, with a bit of flapping of wings and jumping and even a half second of flying for some. Their greatest joy seems to be in grazing in the yard and accompanying gardens, and giving themselves dust baths wherever they can find a patch of dirt. They joyfully run after moths (catching them on the run I might add) and if they’re feeling bored, will chase the occasional robin who dares to walk among them.

They want social hierarchy, and they achieve it by being aggressive, pecking at any bird who is in their way. Hence the term, “pecking order.”  Unfortunately, our three youngest chicks, being several months younger than the rest, have never been able to assimilate themselves into the larger group of hens. They are told in no uncertain terms to keep away, and usually get the very last of a treat, if anything. I go out of my way to find them huddled under the magnolia, one of their favorite hideouts, and bring them their own treat.

They want places to sit, or roost, that are comfortable (2x4s work well) and the latest cool spot for them to perch is on top of the wheelbarrow leaning against the shed, but the hammock clearly holds a fascination for many of them, having found them perched on one end or the other, and sometimes walking across it.

They want to dig, and usually trek out to the farthest corner of our lot to the compost pile, sort of a mosh pit of chickens in late afternoon. They find lots of worms and spiders and other bugs to eat and this makes them happy.   

As Orren Fox, a teenaged chicken owner and blogger (Happy Chickens)puts it, “Happy chickens lay healthy eggs,” and that appears to be true!  Give a chicken what she wants, and she will reward you. 

August 28, 2011

One of our "Funky" Eggs

Half a Dozen a Day

The summer has flown by, and the hens started laying before I thought they would!  It started out with one, very small, very light colored, wrinkly "soft" egg shell. We kept it in the refrigerator and brought it out for "show and tell" whenever someone feigned interest in the birds. After a few days, it started to look like wizened old man balls (not that I know what those look like, but I imagine they might).  Anyway, after that anomaly, the eggs came one or two a day, got darker in color, and a bit larger in size, until the current production rate which is now about 5-6 a day, mostly medium to large eggs, certainly not extra large.

I also realized that the hen or hens (not sure if the layer, or friends) would cackle VERY loudly when an egg was laid!  The first time I noticed this, they made so much noise that I ran down to the coop to make sure that no predator had made its way inside. But there was nothing, only the hens who by this time were already in the run, so when I looked in the coop, I saw one very large egg and picking it up, noticed its warmth from just being laid, it's tremendous size, and the fact that there were "rings" around the shell. I felt like a ballistics expert --- "Joe, look at this egg -- I bet forensics could identify which bird laid it by these rings!"  (Too much television). We still have this egg in the refrigerator; (it's hard not to keep the evidence), and it makes me wish I would have had chickens when I was in fourth grade because my science presentations would have been oh so much more interesting!  Instead I showed up with dioramas of Native American roundhouses made out of cardboard potato chip boxes, Civil War 'forts' constructed from popsicle sticks, and my collection of butterflies, moths, and leaves. But I digress.

After a few weeks of very uniform, brown eggs, today we had another whopper (accompanied by the loud cackling, poor thing) but it was misshapen, sort of flat on one side, and the 'rings' in it were irregular as well. It was lighter in color too. I wish I knew which hen was laying which egg!  I'm not sure why that's important to me, I just wish I knew is all.