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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lord of the Chickens

It only LOOKS calm and cooperative.

Things have been a bit chaotic.  Well, not so much chaotic as they have been driven by the forces and wills of nature and not necessarily by the forces and wills of me. The six supposedly fertilized eggs that we had incubating under our broody Buff Orpington did not hatch and after 24 days, we made the executive decision that it was time to encourage her to move on and off the nest.  Chicken embryos take 21 days to incubate and hatch and after 22 days of steady setting and no sign of "pips" or cracks in the eggs, Teri bravely broke one open to find a runny, goopy, unfertilized yolk and white.  We decided to give her a couple more days just in case the others might still be developing.  Well, Hilda is off the nest and finding her way back into what I loosely call the flock and the eggs got bagged up and tossed.

In case you are wondering, Hilda did not exactly run passionately across the yard to be greeted with the open wings of her other chicken sisters.  Indeed!  While she actually did seem to be a bit relieved to be off the nest and back to foraging and scratching, her return was heralded by being chased down and pecked by alpha Mean Girl, Trudy (a.k.a. Gertrude Stein) and her trusty goon Virginia Woolf.   Seriously.  Of course, it was only a few more moments before Hilda let the teenagers Jolene, Marilla, and the young rooster-in-training formerly known as Sadie know that she was back in the mix and they better steer clear.

Sheesh.  Last night, Teri and I sat out in the lovely backyard under a darkening clear sky and while the bats fluttered and screeched over our heads, the chickens enacted what has become their nightly Machiavellian ritual of coop intrigue and power play.  Otherwise known as the chickens are going in to roost.

Here's how the chicken poop goes down: the younger pullets, who are in the lower grades, go into the coop first, nearly an hour before dark.  We've noticed that Male Sadie, has started to be the one who leads them into the coop--an activity we have come to learn is typical rooster action as the roos have the job of keeping the hens safe so they signal when it's time to go to bed.  So far, only his two peers pay any attention.  They get themselves all safely and calmly settled into the coop and then, after a while, here comes Hilda.

Hilda gets all up in their business, crowds them out and with a few cranky squawks, all three of the teens come strutting and fluffing back out of the coop.  They mill about, a bit agitated and calculating what their next move should be, while Hilda has the coop roosts all to herself.  Right about this time,  Trudy and Virginia start milling about and blocking the entrance to the coop like high school alpha bitches blocking the entrance to the restroom. 

The teens try to run in and get by, only to find Hilda holding court when they get in there. After stops and starts, sneaking in and running out, all those chickens eventually get themselves into the coop.  There are some clucks and squawks, shuffles, and sounds of bumping and tussling.  They have feet and feet of roost space in there to spread out and find safe spaces to sleep for the night.  When we go over and check to see that everyone is safe and sound, opening up the side door, there are six chickens taking up about two feet of space--they are all pressed and piled up against each other like clowns in a Volkswagen! I kid you not.

We don't really get it.  Sometimes, we feel like we need to intervene and our over-developed senses of humanitarian fairness inspire us to try to get the chickens to play by our rules.  Obviously, despite how barbaric and random it all seems to us, there is a system at play in Chickenville that we are not privy to. When folks talk about the "pecking order" that make it sound so...well, orderly, but it doesn't really appear to having any smooth order to me.  There is posturing and stalking and pecks and alliances...and then they all climb into bed together.  There isn't a Shakespeare play or daytime Soap Opera that can hold a candle to life as a chicken!