Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life on the Farm: Chicken Background

I have a small flock of poultry that lives at my in-laws' farm just down the road.  We've raised the four Australope and five Plymouth Rock hens from chicks we picked up at TSC.  The original flock had 35 or 40 chicks.  Thirty of them became dinner once they reached full-sized.  The chickens are pretty stupid; they are also quite funny.   I built them a roost last spring. I thought one or two chickens could use it at a time.  I was surprised to see all 9 of them up on the roost at once.    If I've had a rough day at school, I feel a lot better after watching how excited the chickens get when I throw them some sunflower seeds or cracked corn.  My other simple pleasure is tying a bunch of turnip greens to a rafter and letting them dangle 2-3 feet from the floor.  The chickens will jump/fly to rip a mouth full of greens free.

We've also got two Pekin duck hens.  Either of the ducks are substantially smarter than the entire flock of hens put together.  We keep them in with the hens.  The major drawback to keeping all of the poultry together is that the ducks love to get water everywhere.  Because of that, cleaning up the manure is more complicated than if the chickens and ducks were separated.  The major advantage of keeping them together is that the ducks act as guardians towards the chickens.  If the food runs low, the ducks quack so loudly you can hear them 300 feet away or more until you get more food.  If a hazard appears (like that time I brought the wheelbarrow into the coop! Oh, the horror!), the ducks shove the chickens into a corner and stand in front of them.

 Ducks will keep you up-to-date on all of the news on the farm.  Yesterday, my husband brought some produce scraps to the coop.  The chickens clucked at him; the ducks retreated to the far corner of the coop and watched him stonily.  While the chickens dug into the scraps, the ducks picked out one chicken and watched her for about two minutes.  I swear use the chickens as poison testers.  When that chicken ate the new scraps and survived,  the ducks rushed to the scraps and collected their share of the spoils.  I came in a few minutes later and the ducks rushed up to me and started quacking away - letting me know about the suspicious stranger and the scraps he left behind.

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