The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Critter Bonding

We are all getting to know each other: The new pullets, the old hens, Teri, Me, the three cats, and the bees.  Throw in our wild critter neighbors (squirrels, jays and chickadees) and we've got quite the tribal settling going on over here on Cedar Street. As Teri declared the other day, there is always something going on in our back yard!

So, here's the low down on merging the young chicklets with our existing Macbethian flock of gals--it's a process.  Many of you may already know that chickens live contentedly with a social hierarchy.  What we've learned, is that the pecking order shifts depending on interesting things: for example, if one of them goes into a moult and stops laying for a while, she tends to lose a little ground, while someone else gets a promotion.  So far, we have seen all three of the big girls take a turn at being in charge.  Currently, it appears Trudy is calmly in the CEO shoes (after being the scraggly late-bloomer, we're thinking she's enjoying her turn in the bossy seat).  Hilda, our Buff Orpington, is presently at the bottom of the trio and, we're noticing, she has the most to gain with the addition of the three rookies and she's making sure they know it!

The other hens (Trudy and Virginia Woolf) pay little attention to the three new squeakers running around, but Hilda really needs them to know she's a rung above them on the ladder of success and influence.  She isn't terribly physical, she tends to use an obnoxious squawk and some jolty posturing to intimidate. Teri, ever the fair-minded humanitarian, finds all of this bossing and mild bullying disconcerting; she can't figure out why, if they know what it's like to be on the bottom, they aren't all nice, helpful and egalitarian to one another.  My philosophy is that we're probably not the ones to tackle and change what Nature has created; there are obviously things at play here outside of our realm of logic and human psychology.  That said, I also think that as long as they all have plenty of room to get away from each other and make their own alliances, fresh air, treats, and attention from us, things will settle down and our miniature animal kingdom will be relatively peaceful.

Now enter bees...
I am surprised at how quickly I have become enamoured of our buzzing little hive. Yesterday, I couldn't wait to get home from work when I realized we were having an extended sun break, just to check in with the busy ladies and see what they were up too. My lack of fear has me a bit perplexed.  Strangely enough, I actually feel a sense of calm when working around the bees.  It might have something to do with the fact that I am trying to be slow, respectful and deliberate when working around them; I don't want to startle, crush or traumatize any of them--they are all working so hard and so focused on their tasks at hand! I love the buzzing sound when the sun warms the hive and they all get active and I am fascinated watching them fly in and out of the entrances, speeding along the flight path and heading up and across the garden.

The chickens pay little notice to the bees, although they are benefiting gastronomically by cleaning up the dead ones they find amidst the grass.  The cats quickly learned to give the hive a respectful berth, although Teri reports that Bad Toby did jump up on the top of the hive the other day, only to look a bit confused and jump himself back down.  I don't think the bees have enough of an investment to protect yet, so they are pretty docile.  I imagine when they've got brood and honey stores, they will likely have less patience for furry intruders!

So amidst all this intentional critter action, we've got a half dozen squirrels who have been racing across the back fence and one determined little thing who has been hell-bent on robbing us of every bit of hemp twine we have in the garden.  We watched the thing grab one end from a ball and take off across our yard, over the back fence and through the neighbor's.  I finally cut the yards long trail with my garden clippers so we could salvage some for ourselves. The jays are stealing straw and bits of whatever they can get away with to line their nests, and after watching our chickens devour a big, crunchy snail, and watching the young pullets gobble a couple gooey slugs, I'm happily realizing that we are not going to have a slug and snail problem this year!

We're all figuring it out, we're cohabitating, and, honestly, I sort-of think we're all making it up as we go along...

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