Saturday, October 07, 2006

Listening to the food chain

This morning, just after the rooster started crowing, we heard a different sound from the woods down below: coyotes howling.

The rooster crowed again.

The coyotes howled again.





Rooster. Coyotes. The call and response of the food chain.

Life and death, part II

Last Sunday we figured we'd be down one hen by this Saturday, and we are.

Remember that sign Michael Moore comes across in a Flint, Michigan backyard in "Roger and Me," that reads: "Rabbits for sale: for pets or meat"? When you've got backyard chickens, that becomes a question: Which is it, pets or meat?

Years ago when we realized we had two alpha roosters who kept fighting each other, my friend Pat offered a solution: Coq Au Vin. I was horrified! But then I realized: keeping chickens may be chic, but it is not for sissies.

This has come into full relief in the past few days, as we debated the fate of the one-eyed hen in the cellar. We're only half-joking when we muse over whether our local glassblower Josh Simpson would accept a commission to create a tiny glass eye for her.

Could we get her a tiny chicken eyepatch?

We were thinking we'd have to put her down.What to do? Take her out into the woods and leave her there? Ring her neck? We couldn't do it.

Then she started to rally. The antibiotics might have kicked in, or maybe just relaxing in the cellar window--the hen spa. She's still missing an eye, but she doesn't seem to bump into things as much.

Then I brought her out to the flock and, the rooster took after her again. We could be facing the poultry version of "Lord of the Flies."

This leads us to the term "pecking order." From Merriam Webster's: "the basic pattern of social organization within a flock of poultry in which each bird pecks another lower in the scale without fear of retaliation and submits to pecking by one of higher rank" (Hey, sounds like your last job, right?)

But here is the strange thing: we lost a bird this week, but it wasn't the Barred Rock who got the crap pecked out of her. It was a Blue Andalusian who, yesterday, seemed fine.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What the chic-est chickens are wearing this season

I was joking about finding a tiny eyepatch for the one-eyed hen, but apparently, accessorizing your chickens is not a new idea.

Egg Scrambler sent this along:

This from one of my loopier design web sites:
In 1936, Diana Vreeland began a column in Harper’s Bazaar titled “Why Don’t You…” which dispensed inspirational tidbits in her typically broad style.
Such bons mots included:
“Why don’t you…tie black tulle bows on your wrists?”
“…raise chickens and let them wear tiny bowties around the barnyard?”
“…wash your child’s hair in champagne?”
“…build a private staircase from your bedroom to your library and cover the stairs in needlepoint?”
“…have your bed made in China?”
The column was widely read, ridiculed and imitated.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Life and death

"You're not going to put this in your blog, are you?" my husband asked.

"Nah!" I lied.

He was working in the cellar when one of the tough old Barred Rock hens came up to cellar door and started to come in; he shooed her off before he realized that she had a huge gash in her head, in fact, much of the skin on the back of her head had been stripped. And one eye was either missing, or so bruised that she couldn't open it.

Dan thought the rooster had done it--he's prone to rough sex in the driveway--actually, he's one of the most sexually active roosters we've ever had. But he figured it out too late. After he shooed her away, we went looking for her around the yard and the woods, but couldn't find her anywhere.

We resigned ourselves to the idea that she'd gone off into the woods to die. We've lost five or six birds since we began keeping chickens four years ago, and it's still a sad event. I once held an injured Blue Andalusian chick in my hands and felt her last jolt of life. Other times, you find them out in the coop.

Sunshine, our big old Buff Orpington rooster, just keeled over one day out in the yard. Sometimes birds die and you don't even know why.

So we went to some friends' house for dinner with the thought that we'd never see that Barred again.

Then we came home around 10:30, and there she was, sitting on top of the coop, looking like something out of a bad cartoon, one eyelid bloodied shut, the back of her head and neck a black ooze of blood an pus. All that was missing was the little crown of stars rotating over her head!

We brought her into the cellar and made her a box, fed her some water and crunched up pellets, and she started to come around a little. Today, she's still a scraggly mover--we don't know whether she'll make it, but she has at least survived another day.

I thought: sometimes, this is what your life becomes: midnight on a Saturday night and you're down in the cellar, nursing a one-eyed chicken.