Sunday, April 27, 2008

The moods of broody banties

Both the bantams, Zora and Edna, are still feelin’ broody but Zora seems to take it more seriously. When I open the gate of the run, Edna watches the other hens scamper out. I think she can’t stand sitting there seeing what a great time they’re having, so she hops down to the ground and flies across the lawn, screaming like a falling plane, to join the crowd. Eventually, Zora comes out for a while (gotta get those dust baths) before returning to the nest to sit on nothing because I’ve taken the eggs.

They both want to spend the night in the hutch where the nest boxes are. The coop itself is a different “building” because each is too small to contain both roosts and nesting areas. Every evening, I have to stretch my arms through the awkwardly small opening in the hutch to lift out reluctant Zora and Edna, one at a time, and carry her over to the coop. They don’t make the angry, whining noises of large hens; they sound more like the way puppies grunt when you pick them up. Another difference: Edna will perch or sit on my hand; Zora is less tame even when broody-sleepy and has to be contained in both hands.

Zora stands on the coop floor looking bewildered—more bewildered than a chicken usually looks if you take note of the body language. If it’s not dark out, I let them figure out that they’re in the coop and eventually join the others on a perch. When it’s dark, I place them on a perch because I don’t know if they’ll venture up on their own.

Which brings up the question of how well can chickens see in the dark, anyway? Having really poor night vision would be a reason why they stay put when it’s dark.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A chicken makes a decision

It is axiomatic that people with small flocks of chickens are easily entertained. It is also true that chickens don’t make decisions because decisions require a consciousness that chickens do not have, which is why people find them entertaining in the first place. Consider my use of the word “decision” as a metaphor for the chicken thought process.

Yesterday I watched Zora, the black bantam Modern, try to decide what to do after I opened the door of the pen. She had been sitting in the nest. Like all the others, she rushed out the door but instead of running across the yard with them, she stopped. She took a few steps back toward the nest, then forward toward the others, then a few steps back. She hesitated. Back and forth again, unable to decide. Hunt with the others? Follow her instinct to remain broody on the nest? Try to understand the impossibility of choosing between these equal urges.

Fortunately she was rescued in the form of a small worm appearing in the dirt in front of her. When she bent to get it, the distraction wiped out all other thoughts and she continued scratching and pecking, gradually joining the others, leaving only me to remember what had happened.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Snow, April evening shouldn't be allowed

Insane weather

I'm personally insulted by the snow. It never ever snows in Seattle in the middle of April. It began with hail, slush and ice falling from afternoon to early evening, now regular snow sticking to roofs and trees and the lawn. To see snow falling at 8 pm before the sun is due to set--well, if other people around here are not unnerved, I'd like to hear about that.

The chickens go into their house, then step outside looking bewildered, as if the snow should have reconsidered and gone away while they were indoors. They whine. I whine. I locked them in early tonight.

Last week I was wearing shorts and listening to the frogs in the evening. Yesterday evening it was not too chilly to stand outside and breathe in the perfume of all the blossoms. This evening I'm wearing fleece and wondering how many frogs and young birds are dying in this sudden cold. It's as if everything has gone into reverse.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The invasion

With the training completed, the hens are growing bolder. They began by roaming through the ivy-covered slope that separates the upper from the lower parts of the back yard. Then, like an invading army breaching the walls of a fort, up they came over the edge onto the cement patio. The patio pattern reminds me of crazy-paving. Instead of being flat cement, there are irregular grooved lines to give the appearance of paving stones. Those grooves make wonderful (for the hens) collection points for dirt, leaf debris, moss, and bugs. Now the dog pooper-scooper is also a chicken pooper-scooper.

Next, they’ll be knocking at the back door.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Basic training is complete.

The six hens sing and crowd up to the pen doorway when they see me coming. Unable to disobey their request for treats, I always bring a scoopful of scratch feed or scraps from the kitchen. If I let them out and dash across the lawn, they all run after me as if there is some urgent reason to follow my feet. When I stop, the feet are suddenly of no interest, for they immediately start scratching in the lawn and pecking at bugs.

The weather here has been 8—10 degrees colder than normal the past week or more. Snow stuck on the lawns and roofs last Friday; this is unusual enough to be an insult.

By Sunday afternoon the snow was gone and the sun warmed a few areas of the yard, though it was cold in the shade. (I must make a new pen because the current one is in a dark, damp side of the yard.) When I let the chickens out, they immediately began sunbathing, pressing one side of their bodies into the lawn while extending the opposite side’s wing and leg, necks stretched out, looking like dedicated tanners or hens in the last act of a convulsive death.