Thursday, December 07, 2006

The interpreter

When we first started keeping chickens, I would hear these screeches coming from the henhouse and go running out to see what was going on. They sounded so awful, I was certain they were under attack by a fisher or a fox.

I'd get out there, and I'd find one bird in the laying box and the other one (the screecher) wanting to use the occupied one rather than the empty one right next to it. Said screech was not a call of DANGER!, rather it was the equivalent of "Come on, hurry up bitch, I gotta get in there!"

Over the years, I have come to know what the different screeches mean (one more clue as to just how pathetic my life has become). Sometimes they're out scratching around the woods and one will get separated from the flock. There's a screech that says "HEY, WHERE'D EVERYBODY GO?" That always results in a callback from the flock.

There's another that tells you: the pellet bowl is empty, and would you please get off your duff and fill it?

Now I know when something is really wrong in the henhouse, and when it's just a little hen-fight going on.

As you read this, another bird call may come to mind: cuckoooo!

But! I offer you this from a brochure a nice young Vegan gave to me today outside the Student Union:
"Contrary to what one may hear from the industry, chickens are not mindless, simple automata, but are complex behaviorally, do quite well in learning, show a rich social organization, and have a diverse repertoire of calls. Anyone who has kept barnyard chickens also recognizes their significant differences in personality."

Bernard E. Rollin PhD
Farm Animal Welfare
Iowa State University Press, 2003

A fellow traveler. Here's the site:

The price of eggs

Years ago I wrote a story about a third generation Franklin County dairy farmer who was going out of business, one of hundreds of New England dairymen who sold off their herds in the past two decades.

As he sat on the porch of his ramshackle house looking out over a million-dollar view, over hayfields toward the southern hills, he mentioned what, 'til that point, was the strangest part of the whole thing: for the first time in either of their lives, the old timer and his wife had to go to a store to buy a gallon of milk.

I have thought about that guy every time I've gone shopping over the past month or so, because the ladies have stopped laying.

On strike.

The Big "No Hay" on the huevos.

We haven't had an egg in at least six weeks.

They do this every year, of course, but still. They keep eating their pellets.

"Maybe we need a new flock," says Dan. "Time to get rid of them."

Nooooo! I say in my most Mister Billish voice.

I was in the egg section at Foster's Supermarket the other night when I heard a similar exchange between a husband and wife.

"Ticks me off that we gotta buy eggs," says the guy.

"It' just temporary, they'll be back," says the wife, perusing over the whites and browns.