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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Crazy Chickens

Let's face it, Chickens are Crazy!

If you don't raise them, or know someone that does, then this may come as a complete shock to you. But I'm here to tell you that they are downright nuts, their mother's had them tested, bonkers crazy!

Most people go about their daily lives seeing nice, normal, sedate tree birds, who happily perch on a delicate branch and belt out a nice tune, flit about the feeder and splash about in the birdbath. They joyfully collect sticks and bits from the yard, or the cat, and make lovely nests in delicately painted bird boxes or the protected crook of a tree.  We lift our children day by day to spy the little newly laid eggs, and soon the tiny chirping mouths.  Sure, zoo birds may be a BIT more interesting than the normal house wren, but by and large they too are "normal" acting creatures. 

I cut zoo birds a little more slack on the crazy meter as they DO tend to be exotics, and have to deal with the general population on a daily basis.  The exceptions to the crazy rule are mocking birds ("the notes are C,D,E, and A!" or being able to replicate a car alarm at 4am), hummingbirds (natures fierce, territorial, MEAN little fighter jets), and wild turkeys (not a brain in their head, unless it is hunting season and then they become the most clever of birdies.)

Chickens are a horse of a different color.  From the minute they start to develop in the egg, until the moment they see their last sunset, they are in an entertaining world of their own.  The little fluff balls get into all kinds of mischief all day and long into the dark hours as they explore their world.  They woo you with their intoxicating cuteness, luring you into a false sense of calm and security.  Then one morning you go out to the broody pen, and like a scene from Stalag 17, they've escaped!  They've been cleverly plotting for weeks until just the right moment.  In my head, I envision them standing on each other's shoulders, until finally they can reach the cage top, and then with one almighty push, they are free.  You spend the rest of the morning scouring the nooks and crannies of the barn, shelves, and storage bins for your innocent little fluffs before the giant wolf spiders haul them away to Gallifrey.

This little insight to their ability as escape artists leads you to build a much larger grow out pen in the barn.  Sure it takes up a lot of room, but they are growing, and maybe if they have enough space, they won't try to escape.  HA! Wrong.  They are hard wired to explore.  Like beagles, they follow their stomachs.  They could have the most incredible bounty right in front of them, but all they can think of is, "what's over there, and how do I GET there".

By now they have surpassed the fluffy adorable stage and have moved on to the ugly duckling phase.  This is when the pecking order starts to rear its ugly head, which can also be entertaining, in a Wes Craven kind of way.  You figure that boredom might be the instigator for the fights so you add enrichment items.  The thing is, like children, they'd rather play with the cardboard box than the toy.  Nothing you put in the pen for them to be play with, will be played with in its intended manner.  Swing perches become pecking toys.  Clamshell food puzzle balls get pulled apart and spilled so they can play with the worm like elastic band.  The interest inducing RED play ball you added for push and chase fun.... well, let's just say our rooster has a strong core and rock hard abs and the balancing skills of a Romanian gymnast.

We spend a ridiculous amount of time observing our chickens. I think it is there hypnotic plan to over throw, if not the planet, at least the homestead. I am nearly certain they are of alien origin, and if not, I at least have NO trouble seeing them as the once Giants that Ruled the Earth.  Instead of watching TV, or playing video games, or creating imaginary villages and waging warfare on our tablets, we drag out the lawn chairs and sit with a glass of ice tea and watch the chickens peck.  It is oddly entertaining and relaxing all at the same time.  We watch and wonder why they've wandered where they've wandered.  We are perplexed at their 90210 cliques and social drama.  We know their chirps and calls, and movements and stand bolt upright from the chairs when the flock suddenly flies from the lower hay meadow to the cover of the coop.  Was there a snake?  Did someone see a hawk?  Is there a t-rex sneaking up behind me that I missed?  Or did someone just get the urge to go bonkers and the others joined in?
Now that all of our ladies are in the big girl coop and are (for the most part) all laying.  The entertainment value has gone through the roof.  Their wanderings occasionally find a spring peeper frog.  Toads they leave alone, but a small frog is at the top of their menu wish list.
Not on the menu, EVER!
 Not only does it provide a great chase, but once one chicken has something, they all want it.  It could be an old muddy shoe, and if one shows interest, the chase is on.  The fun thing about a frog is that more than one chicken can enjoy it.  Bugs and worms can be used to taunt the other hens and quickly swallowed in one teasing gulp, but a frog?  They are stretchy and have four floppy limbs.  The great chase can go on for half an hour!  Then it is like watching 4 eight year olds play with a Stretch Armstrong doll.

Fair Game!
 This past week, I've been putting in extra hours in the garden as it winds down.  The late summer scourge of the high plains, the grasshopper, is starting to take its toll on the tomatoes.  I've been going out and picking the unblemished orange ones, and tossing the damaged red ones over the electric cattle fencing to the birds.  They know they aren't allowed IN the garden, so as I work inside, they line up like children against a  glass restraint window in a Dickens novel.  Their sad eyes and pout beaks pleading for a red, ripe orb all the while their Jedi mind tricks are trying to penetrate past the protective electric field.  It must have worked.  They managed to get a gallon of cherry tomatoes, three cucumbers, and a cantaloupe from me Tuesday night.  And of course no one could just EAT the food.  All of it had to become part of a game of tag.  There were tomatoes and chickens running flying all over the yard.

Another crazy sight, besides dust and sun bathing, is the invisible prey.  My henhouse is about a million miles from the house.  When you walk through the house completing all those pesky inside jobs, you can catch a glimpse of the bucolic scene of a flock of fat hens waddling their way across the lawn, mindlessly pecking and scratching for food.  Then it happens.  One of the hens will seemingly loose its tiny little mind and start bounding across the lawn, zigging and zagging, leaping, turning, up on her toes, crouched down like a pouncing tiger.  Moves that the Hippos from Fantasia could only dream of.  Of course they are all moves that would make a psychologist see dollar signs as he envisions his new multi-million dollar yacht.  Luckily, we don't use a pet psychologist (Yes, they DO exist.)  So what's up with the critter?  DO they even MAKE chicken straight jackets?  Should we skip therapy and go straight for the stock pot?

Butterflies.  Yup.  Teeny, tiny, hard to even see when they are right in front of you butterflies.  Or maybe they are moths.  I've never been close enough to one to look for fuzzy or naked antennae.  Just as I start to look at one, a hen will pull off the leap and spin of a life time, and poof, the bug is gone.  They must taste amazing.  Last night, several of them were chasing their own moths all at the same time.  It was starting to look like the insane asylum was open for business.

Fast forward to just before dark last night.  The temperature had finally started to drop from somewhere near equatorial jungle to volcanic sauna, so I decided that while the girls were out filling their crops before bed I would swap their old three hole nest box for their new 6 hole box! 

Old Box.  And yes, that is the rooster.  My young, poor confused

The Rolls Royce of Nesting Hotels
You would have thought I nailed a six headed alien to the wall!  It was like one of those reality TV shows where the couple leaves for the day, and friends sneak in and remodel the whole place.  The rooster was especially peeved, but as the sun was past setting, they calmed down quickly, roosted, and reconnected to the mother ship for a nights worth of recharging

Uh-huh.  It all started again this morning when they woke up to find a 6 headed monster nailed to the wall.  I watched from the glorious comfort of my Select Comfort Bed via our web camera, as the little biddies took their time going outside, and instead gathered around in front of the great beast like islanders in front of their Easter Island Gods.  Their chatter was incessant and finally the rooster had his say and they all migrated out to breakfast.  Hyacinth, always one to do her own thing (she eats paint too - well pecks it off - don't ask) decided to tame the mighty beast.  Although she isn't due to lay until around 3 today, she had to park herself in every cubby.  I think it was to determine which one was hers so she could prepare to kick someone out later
As I check in on them again, I see that someone has managed to tame the beast and lay an egg, and Daisy has decided that the new nesting pads are the bees knees and has fluffed herself an amazing nest!  So all is not lost! LOL. (The green pads are great as well.  They can be washed and reused for years and years.  The new ones you toss when they get excessively dirty, so weeks to months.)

See how entertaining they are?!  And YOU don't even have to feed them or scoop their poop!