Thursday, March 24, 2011

Henyard Chronicles

feathers shaded from tan through salmon to brownThe hen project is not just about eggs, I get vast pleasure watching my chickens go about their daily business from my office window. In many ways it is more satisfactory than sitting in front of the tee-vee.

My henyard is a perfect microcosm. (def. #1) There are characters; bullies, braggarts, complainers, followers and leaders; there are noisy dramas, both tragedies and moments of communal joy.

One of my favorite hens was a little bantam cross I called Bella. She was one of a bunch I trapped for Click picture to enlarge an old friend, a neatnik who was being driven crazy by hordes of prolifically breeding and prodigiously (def. #1) pooping chickens. My suggestion that I trap and remove the roosters, imposing a halt to the breeding was rejected out of hand. It was the poop fouled up (sorry) that course of action. Over a period of weeks I trapped and brought home literally dozens of small hens. The roosters were dropped off after hours at the Humane Society.

Many of the hens flew out of the henyard just as soon as their wing feathers grew back and departed for points unknown. Bella was one of the ones who stayed, she was easy to recognize, among the serious eggers, the heavyweight black Australorps and Silver Lace Wyandottes. Each of Bella's feathers, delicately shaded from tan through salmon to brown had a perfect round white dot. The picture above is of her daughter who is not quite as pretty, but much tamer.

Bantam hens brood often on huge clutches of eggs and nature has good reason for this. It is not uncommon for the proud hen to hatch nine to twelve chicks and raise just one to adolescence, at which point she abandons them and enjoys a few weeks of freedom before starting on the next batch. Like people some are good protective mothers and others are more casual. Attaining adulthood is equally perilous for the young, especially if they are raised by one of the wilder hens. Chicks meet cats and dogs and quite often simply get lost.

Each day the small chickens greet the dawn with noisy enthusiasm from the olive tree in which they roost at night. The big hens prefer the hen house, which has a roof and proper roosts, no clinging to a branch on a wet night in a howling gale for them. Before it is properly light the little hens have flown over the fence to start their daily rounds, busily scratching up the neighbor's flower beds and patrolling the paddocks in search of seeds and delicious bugs. In the evening they return to eat before fluttering up into their tree, grumbling and squabbling as they decide where to roost for the night.

Y'all come back!

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