Saturday, September 1, 2012

The life and times of chicken farming

This has been an eventful week with our chickens. We have 9 bought at 2 different times but with 3 age ranges. The three oldest chickens have always kept to themselves and pretty much ruled the roost. The next four were all hatched at the same time and bought when they were about 5 weeks old. The last two were little baby chicks with all the yellow fluff when we bought them. Chickens stay in clans or cliques or whatever is the right word and while they might finally grow tolerant of others invading their space, they maintain their own group, especially at night when they roost.

Chickens roost at night. They must have a safe, well ventilated place to spend the night where they can be off the ground which helps keep them safe from night predators. About sunset, they will automatically go to their beds/roosts, which is so completely different than kids. You cannot force them to roost early but you must let them get into their roosting place at night when it is time.

Because they will freely return to their roost at night, we have been letting them free range in our back yard, beginning in early evening, propping open the gate that keeps them safe from our dogs, who could pose a terrible risk to them. Then at night, we go back, close the gate, close the door to their chicken coop, and another part of our yard has been cleared by pecking. It seems to be a win/win situation because they LOVE the fresh grass and we don't want to mow it.

One night this week we got home from softball practice after sunset. Annabel did as she was told and headed straight to the shower while I let the dogs out. I was trying to close the back door to avoid any West Nile carrying mosquitoes and did not notice at first that the dogs were not going down the stairs from the deck. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the light and realize the reason the dogs would not go down the stairs is because they could not, they were blocked by big old chickens who had decided that would be where they would roost for the night, since the gate to their coop had swung shut so they did not have access to their usual bedtime routine. Although we only have nine chickens, it seemed like they were everywhere; on the deck, on the stairs, on the pole holding, the gate, and one that found a stray board to sleep on.

I screamed for help because Nina's mouth had begun to water when she got a good smell of the obstruction and as her teeth were just about to get a bite, Grace arrived to seize the dogs and get them back in the house. Then I was left with trying to get the chickens in. Annabel is my chicken wrangler but she was missing all the excitement since she was in the shower.

The last chicken was the most stubborn and I had to pick up the board she was roosting on and tilt it enough to make her lose her balance. Annoyed with me, she squawked a few times, then strolled into the coop, and with her in, all were accounted for and disaster was diverted.

Then yesterday afternoon, Annabel came in from checking on the chickens and announced that she thought her chicken, Selena, was dead. I'm still in my work clothes and it was 101 degrees outside so I quickly changed, asking questions the whole time about why she thought she was dead.

Ugh!

I really hoped she was wrong in her assessment as she was when she thought one had disappeared but was actually on the roof instead. Dreading that she was right, I head into the coop for the place she has described and sure enough, Selena was laying there, like she had slipped, fallen, and broke her neck. Dad insists they can't but this was not the smartest chicken and I think anything was possible for her.

Thank goodness for Dad.

While I am retrieving shovels, Dad, bless his heart, bends down, picks her up, puts her in a feed bag, and then we head to our new christened animal cemetery and proceed to dig a hole big enough for Selena.

I had read many accounts of people writing about their chicken's unique personalities and I had not believed it until we had our own. Selena was an individual who marched to her own drum. She roosted with her two older sisters at night, but generally she wandered around as if she were humming to herself. Even if we brought out a special treat, Selena would stay by herself and only when everyone else was finished, then she would casually stroll over to see what all the fuss was about.

At the funeral, I asked Annabel if she wanted to have a brief service.

Her eulogy, "She was alive, and now she is dead."

OK, so if you ever need someone to provide the world's shortest eulogy, ask Annabel.

I did not think I would ever think one of those silly chickens meant anything, but I have to admit to feeling rather sad at her untimely demise. Silly, huh?

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