Zipfi has been my first broody and gave me a scare in February of 2008, just after Valentine's. I had been noticing loose feathers around the coop and in the end nest box near the outer door to the run. Then on the 15th when she bent over with the others to accept treats in the blue bowl, I noticed a bare patch between her legs. It was a perfect circle! I remembered that Zipfi has been hogging that nest box recently. In fact when I lifted her gently she seemed a bit light. Bingo. She's going broody. Now, Zipfi is one of those hens who watches me closely. She will accept a gentle stroke while squatting, but she can be obsessive about eggs and has often bawked her resentment as I collect them. I assume that single egg that always appears in the end box is hers. too. So she lays one egg, alone in the same place every day but fusses over bigger clutches in any box. Interesting. So I began offering her a strip of shredded cabbage in return for her egg, daily, and collected them earlier than usual. She gradually broke back into normal eating and drinking, and has become more congenial. Took about two weeks, maybe a little more, and her feathers began to grow back. Then this morning, March 10, I noticed a feather in her nest box and that I had only eleven eggs, down one from my usual twelve. Sneaky cow waited until I left the coop and jumped into the box and laid egg. I have to think she wanted me out of there so I wouldn't take it. I waited a while and returned. She doth protest but I have that egg. Without a rooster I can't risk having her go broody and get out of condition. I know she hates me, but, well, she's the only one. So far. She seems quite, um, determined.
A Display of Dominance
I witnessed an exquisite display yesterday on our roosts, which are 3- 2x4's at the same level. A small sexlink named Redwing flew to the roost from the top of the nest boxes last evening as all the girls prepared to groom and gossip before sleep. Trouble was, the biggest bossiest hen in the coop, Golda, as walking along the middle roost where Redwing sleeps. Golda chose to interpret Redwing's arrival as a threat and stretched up like a rooster, arched and lifted her wings.
As I was mesmerized by that display, Redwing landed, twisted herself sideways on the front roost and lifted a wing exposing her underbelly to Golda. Her neck stretched back and she stood on one foot in an utter display of submission. Not convinced, Golda fluffed and her eyes blazed. Redwing then, almost against the laws of physics, turned in the other direction and lifted her remaining wing and stood, frozen, in front of Golda. You's think she belonged to the Winnipeg Ballet.
Then, as though nothing had transpired, Golda returned to her normal size and groomed, forcingRedwing to wait for *her* spot on the middle roost. I was stunned, no birds were injured in the performing of this show, and soon after the roost filled with hens, each of whom stepped into her sleeping spot, including Redwing.
I wait for moments like this, transfixed.
Charlie the Rooster
There once was a rooster named Charlie
who rode on the back of a Harley;
And when he saw chicks,
He crowed and threw sticks
Until they agreed to a parley.
Whenever I look at a chicken
My greedy heart beats to a quicken
Whether rooster or hen
It comes to my pen
I'm struck with a nameless addiction.
Christmas in the Red Barn
Christmas 2008 has begun, after the eighth in a series of winter storms. Last night we bad both rain and snow, but technically it's a white Christmas because more than half is remaining. Soggy, but, well. The rooftops are snow free, which is as well because on Saturday we expect yet another blizzard. Nearby in the city thousands are again without power, no doubt cooking a turkey in a fat fryer or barbeque or perhaps begging space in a propane oven somewhere.
Those of us in the country are more likely to have generators , but we may not need them because for once, we are the ones with electricity. It doesn't mean the beginning of the 2008 season was easy though- the first two storms brought heavy sow of the dangerous variety, and it's the first time we felt the need to purchase a roof rake. The temperatures have fluctuated wildly, sometimes as uch as 25 degrees Celsius in a twenty-four hour period.
Since we retired from teaching, David and I don't leave the house until we've had two mugs of coffee in bed and watched the news. Thus fortified we can greet the day, whaever it brings, and this year it's been so variable we often gasp before getting the snowblower, shovels, hot water container and treats for the various inhabitants of our little barn.
It's now 7C above zero and we're told that by 4 pm it could be -12C. You do;t get used to that, not really, and you don't know what to wear. With the afternoon in mind I wore my usual to the red barn- ladies' 'peachskins' (long johns) under slacks and thermal layers on the top. Oh and the ubiquitious anorak.
The Games Pullets Play
The girls are pullets now, replete with petticoats at six weeks. They're getting more independent and their beaks are harder. I hear big girl voices and a dozen needy cries when I enter the coop. Feed me, love me, water me, carry me, be my protector. It's good to be a beloved jailer, and these Golden Comets and other RIR crosses are wicked fun! They play games too, I've noticed quite a few and if you can add to the list, please do so!
I'm Bigger Than You are
This game begins with an unexpected face to face as two of the girls look up and find each other in the way. The necks elongate horizontally at first, and then there are little squawks as each tries to prove she's bigger and badder than the other. Heads weave past each other cheek to cheek the way mean girls kiss on the street. There is optional flapping and foot stomping. Eventually one proves she is the taller or bulkier. Maybe it's part of the journey to pecking order, and it usually ends with each of them pretending it didn't happen, as food or other distractions break the focus.
I'll Clean You
This is a good one, because it's an excuse to see if pecking the human is possible. It could be a way to bully you if you let it proceed, and I am not to be bullied, thanks very much. Your shoes are a good target because all kinds of edibles seem to collect on the top, above your metatarsals. This doesn't hurt much so we tend to tolerate. But then there's the twang that only the Achilles tendon can produce, and it isn't very nice. It's particularly difficult if you are sockless or if you have a freckle. Yikes. The worst version of this occurs on hot days if we're foolish enough to wear shorts and have grass clippings or something on which they can focus, on the back of the leg. Back of the knee? Nearly intolerable! Your hair will do, too, never mind earrings. The ultimate agony is having them find a tattoo or piercing. Ye Gods! Of course when you scream they look at you sideways as though you were at fault and have a bad attitude. Ruby, my smallest RIR cross is a sneaky little devil.
The Dust Bath
Unlike human baths pullets prefer to dust bathe in groups. it starts with one individual getting the idea, and luxuriously easing herself deep into the provided sand. No matter how big the container it is never big enough and half the flock will line up immediately. The first bird is always slow to leave, and is capaple of throwing up much matter in her efforts to lord it over the others. A pile-on often is the result with the first bird eventually being driven out, though I swear they chuckle at starting the melee. A haze forms in the coop as low-level particulate slowly drifts to the floor. After much exercise, a group sleep is in order. As a bonus, sunlight often cascades through an open door to make the entire experience breathtaking.
Ruby Can Dance
Ruby is going to be a challenge much like the Ruby in that song by the Kaiser Chiefs. For I while I thought she might be an undetected roo, but now I believe her to be an assertive little banshee. It had been suggested that each time she pecks me that I pick her up and not let her down while the others enjoy food and a fresh water fountain. But the fuss! She's hard to hold and getting smarter about my intentions. She's among the top four in this flock of twelve, and we are having a meeting of the minds! She is delightful on one level- if you sing to her, and I do, she will dance on the platform by the pop door. In fact when I sing to Ruby, at least four more will join her in a bird dance. I have a terrible voice, it proves only that she loves the attention.
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
Do you, do you, do you, do you
Know what you're doing, doing, to me
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
Shake Your Booty
KC & The Sunshine Band said it best and they must have been watching chickens. Thest booty shows occur in a line, when the girls are at the edge of one side of the run, mutually foraging for bugs. The petticoats are in the air, the legs are scratching the earth and there's a tremble of excitement each time prey is found. The buff undertones of their bottoms shake with rhythm and I can't help but laugh.
AahEverybody, get on the floor, let's dance!
Don't fight your feelings, give yourself a chance!
Shake shake shake, shake shake shake,
Shake your booty! Shake your booty!
Oh, shake shake shake, shake shake shake,
Shake your booty! Shake your booty.
Sometimesa pullet will jump up, fold her legs like the lever on a one-armed bandit, and land in her original position. If she has swallowed, you can bet she saw a fly , but why she felt the need to jum is beyond me because her head stayed at nearly the same level as her legs swung up. Do pullet have hinges? The behavior is seldom repeated by the same bird, but seems to be contagious if they are on the same level. Maybe they liften to Van Halen-
Might as well jump. jump !
Might as well jump.
Go ahead, jump. jump !
Go ahead, jump.
The Ring Bearer (the ultimate game)
This is my favorite game. One of the girls finds a feather, a bug or a worm. Squiggly objects are best. She flaunts it briefly, takes off at a shocking pace and each pullet squawks upon discovering her and races to get the prize. All sorts of bad things can happen if the ringbearer stops- the ring can be lost, there can be a pile-on, a dust up, a mean girl kiss, or much flapping. The object of this game seems to be the joy (horror) of the chase and I suspect it is orchestrated by the more dominant members of the flock only. Like Frodo, the ringbrearer is in mortal danger, only she doesn;t seem to care.
King of the Mountain
The entire flock has run up your spine after the ringbearer as you sit on a hay bale. Each launches from a shoulder onto a platform and back into the coop via the pop door. The trick is to stand up before they come back out and use you again. It sucks to be the mountain.
Six pullets are sitting in the heat of the sun on a perch behind a plexiglass window.
Pullet 1-What's that red thing she's chasing?
Pullet 2- She called it a %$#@! fox.
Pullet 3- Why is she chasing it?
Pullet 4- With a pitch fork?
Pullet 5- Squawk!
Pullet 6- It stopped.
Pullet 1-OMG, it..it sstopped. It turned. It snarled at her.
Pullet 2-She seems to be coming back.
Pullet 3-So are all the cats.
Pullet 4- She's running.
Pullet 5- Quite impressive, I might add.
Pullet 6- Do you think she'll make it here first?
Pullet 1- I'm just glad the coop door is closed.
Pullet 2- Did she remember the pop door?
Pullet 3- I wish she'd remembered the gun.
Pullet 4- She has a gun?
Pullet 5- Squawwwwwwwwwwwwwwk!
Pullet 6- I like foxes, they're red.
Everyone else- Somebody close the pop door!
The Worm Has Turned
I love to golf. Sometimes you see mammals on the course such as deer, but usually it's the birds who are the heroes of the fairways. Ducks breed in the ponds, nighthawks cry in the pines and eagles soar like emperors.
My ladies' group was on its way down the fourth fairway and I was hovering over a ball with my eight-iron when I happened to see a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. Now how could you hit a golf ball with a huge male fox lumbering parallel to the brook behind us? There was a huge commotion beginning over him as a murder of crows came streaming in his general direction. The fox dipped and weaved, finally crossing a bridge (the place where Marg had lost a new ball). He was nearly over and on his way back to the woods and safety when I hear another cry from the pond up by the green.
A mallard drake was out for blood. He nearly crashed my left shoulder too (wak! waaack! wak!) and I was the one dipping to give him access to his target, Mr. Fox. What the crows could not do this low-flying squadron of one had accomplished. He crashed into the mammal so viciously that the group behind us ran to save the fox. By then we were all screaming and flapping, not knowing if we could stop the melee. The fox scrambled for the brush, stumbling and bumbling, and with the duck following, half on the wing and sometimes landing to launch again.
By then a groundsman was on the spot. I didn't know the little golf buggies could go so fast. Man with a shovel, eight women pleading for the fox. The fox cowered, gathered his second wind and went into a hole. Mixed emotions. He must be the one taking the baby ducklings, and the neighborhood cats. Still. Mixed emotions. I hope the club will hire a humane trapper and move the guy. But where? Spoiled my round, too. I had an eight on that hole.
The Way of the Fox
The orange angora came screaming out of the woods as I took morning walkabout to check the fence posts in our largest pasture. The cat was so stressed that when he saw me in my long Aussie raincoat that he screamed all the way up my body, across my shoulders and onto my head. If you have never been clutched head first by all four claws of a cat while he deafens you with his fear, you have not lived on a farm. That said, my mind drifted through the pain to whatever had sent him to the barn and inadvertently, to my skull. The answer was forthcoming, in a leaping, streaking bundle of four-footed red fur which promptly sat like a pretty dog exactly three feet in front of me. It cocked its head, lovely thing, but the gleam in the eyes said that it might not back down.
I had a problem. It was obvious that Tang, our first barn cat, was not coming down. By now I was punctuated with blood streams and to my greater distress, by a warm stream of cat piss on my neck. The day had not begun well, and I was not carrying so much as a walking stick. The fox cocked her head in the other direction, I had decided on female because of the slender build and the long eyelashes. If she had had a wristwatch I think she would be saying that time for breakfast had come and gone and that the kids were waiting back at the den. I have since learned that a single vixen can have more than one den and we are in former gold digging country, so the hills are filled not with music but with predators.
I was listing my options at a speed greater than light. Back off? A sign of weakness. Step forward? Rejected at first. Turn a shoulder? Not with the flaming cat injecting my weary scalp. I know that if you can make yourself look bigger some animals will back down, so I took my hands briefly away from Tang and spred the panels of my coat out. Tang was not amused and I think I gained sixteen more punctures in that moment. The fox did raise her hindquarters, though. Was she preparing to move off? Seemingly not. I have heard that foxes and bobcats can leap twice their height. Hay-sussssssssssssss, Mary and Joseph, please, no. I was considering giving her the cat, to be honest, except that it would leave me scarred for life. The moments passed. The vixen grew impatient. I'm not sure how long we both stood at high noon.
We both decided to act in the same heartbeat. She jumped at an angle to snap at Tang as I bent my knee with the intention of backing her off. However you look at it, I could have used a little help.
I like animals, I understand the food chain and I do not begrudge a wild thing a full belly. I also like my pets and though Tang was not here by my choice (former owners begged me to keep him), he was also not being hunted by choice. I'm not sure if cats understand that they are food when they are loose, but Tang was getting the picture, fast. Tang was forzen in his terror, expect for those claws that seemed to have a new life, deep in my senses.
This vixen had no fear of me, she must have been around the barn many times and I had often felt her presence at twilight. I had known so many times that something was hunting that I began to lock up the barn a little early so that the horses could relax, knowing that the cats would come in through the hay vents at the edge of the oft, as they pleased. So why was Tang in the woods before breakfast? Why was I even thinking about that with fox jaws so close to my face?