5/17/03 thru 5/18/03
Saturday morning, we went out to get a better look at the new girls.
Ever since humans first domesticated jungle fowl, we've selectively bred them for appearance and "desirable" behavioral traits and given them names to match. Silkies were bred to have feathers that look like a luxurious mane of hair. Leghorns, Australorps, Golden Lakenvelders, Blue Hamburgs, Sicilian Buttercups, Silver Spangled Spitzhaubens, Transylvanian Naked Necks. The exotic names belong to an amazing variety of birds.
No such fanciful moniker was given to this breed. Production Reds were bred strictly to supply meat and eggs. The dull reddish-brown feathers cover a bird created for the factory farms. The hatcheries crank them out by the millions. The overwhelming majority of males are drugged and fed for a few months and then sent to the butcher. The females spend a few years in battery cages prodigiously laying large brown eggs and then it's off to the butcher for them.
Despite their raggedy appearance, these girls seem to be in pretty good health. They're a little scrawny and they've been debeaked, of course, and carelessly at that. Some of their beaks barely extend past the nostrils. We'll have to make sure they always have food available in dishes because the mangled beaks won't be much use for scratching and pecking.
Building a floor in a room that has a dozen freaked out chooks in it took us all weekend and was, well, let's say interesting. We called the supply list in to the lumberyard in town and Jim went to pick it up.
The young man at the pickup gate took a look at the Ford Escort Jim was driving and sized up the situation.
"You the guy for the bird bath?"
"Grass seed and nails?"
"Okay, I'll have to check with the manager. The only other order I have is thirty 12-foot 2x4's and six sheets of 8x4 plywood."
Jim lusts after a pickup truck. A big extended cab, extended bed model that can move a 6 room house in two trips. In the meantime, he's done some pretty impressive hauling in a hatchback. The young man at the pickup gate is astonished when all the lumber is loaded into and on top of the car. He wasn't there when we moved a sofa, a loveseat, three window frames and 5 boxes of assorted gewgaws in one trip.
Back at the farm, I was sitting in the quarantine room talking to the new hens as I gave them the treat every chicken we've ever known loves more than anything else - canned corn. Chickens will do anything for canned corn. Need a bigger house? Get yourself a pile of lumber and a case of canned corn and they'll build an addition for you. I spooned the corn into dishes and kept talking. I wanted them to get used to the sound of my voice and associate it with good things.
When they heard the other hens clucking in the main room of the henhouse and outside, they were only mildly interested. Big deal. They've heard hens before. The roosters crowing? That got their attention. They all ran to the door between the two rooms and stood there staring at it, wanting to see what was on the other side. Hens in an eggery never see or hear a rooster. These girls had just discovered boys and they were very interested.
Jim arrived with the materials and we got to work. Trying to scare the poor creatures as little as possible, we did all the sawing and nailing we could outdoors and brought the finished pieces in one at a time. Inside, we used screws instead of nails wherever we could so we wouldn't have to pound hammers in a room where the tin roof echoes and magnifies every sound.
Still afraid of us, they'd race back and forth, always trying to be far from us and our activity as they could get. On the way, they pooped on everything they passed, meaning tools had to be set up on shelves to keep them from being decorated. Screws, too, had to be carefully monitored - hens will pick up and swallow shiny objects.
With two hens in the established flock sitting on eggs, we needed a place for them to hatch. So we divided the room into two areas. One, the larger, for the 12 new girls and the other for the two moms-to-be and their guardian-escort --- the inimitable Gooberoo. We built the frame and laid out plywood for the flooring while the hens ran back and forth. By Saturday night, the larger area was done. It really needs a couple layers of floor paint, but with the girls already in residence, that can't be done. So we plunked down a bale of bedding on the new floor and called it a day. When we went out later to check on them, they were all at the unfinished end on the dirt floor. Hens.
Sunday we finished the floor and got the divider with gate up between the two areas. The girls are settling in a bit and were willing to let us get within 4 or 5 feet - major progress!
Sandy and Jim Laurie live at Frog Pond Farm in Iroquois County, Illinois, where they grow their own organic produce and tend to a large flock of rescued chickens and guinea fowl.