It's been a big day for the Reds. They ate seeds and met a rooster.
Like other birds, chickens have no teeth and grind up food in their crops, using tiny bits of rock (grit) they eat off the ground. They learn to do this from their mother. The baby chicks watch everything Mom does and eat whatever she eats. Battery hens never know their mother and are never given grit. Instead, they are fed crumbles - chicken feed in a form that will dissolve in their crops and not need to be ground.
Well, a lifetime of bland beige crumbles and mushy treats seems pretty grim to us, so on the second or third day they were here, we started putting some grit in their food. These gals are eating machines and gobbled down everything in their bowls, including the grit. Today I figured they were ready for some variety and added some scratch seeds to their food. A mixture of crushed corn and wheat, sorghum, oat and millet seeds, chickens love the stuff.
The chooks who have been living here a long time see food as a wonderful adventure. They are relentlessly omnivorous, gleefully having at whatever is growing within reach in the garden and munching bugs and worms and an occasional mouse. They've even eaten a few snakes. Anything new and different in the dishes disappears very quickly. The world is their buffet table.
These Reds though, have never experienced variety. As far as they know, food is crumbles. Crumbles are food. That's all there is to that. Sure, they'd tried the canned corn and liked it, but at least that was the same color as food. This stuff looked suspiciously different.
The biggest, boldest of the bunch, the gal who always approaches first, sidled up to the food dish. She looked down at the contents with one eye, twisted her head, and looked with the other. Hm. This stuff looked strange from any angle. A chicken with a full beak could easily have picked around the foreign objects, but a severely debeaked hen doesn't have that option. Her blunt, rounded beak can't do the precision work. She circled the bowl, eyeballing the contents to see if they looked any better from the other side. Eventually, she leaned over and gingerly took a bit of food. She straightened up, swallowed, and waited for the world to come to an end. When it didn't, she dug in. And the others came running over to try it for themselves. In short order, they emptied the dishes and stared at me, having already figured out that I serve at least one useful function as the provider of goodies.
Having survived new food, they were ready for the big arrival. Fluffernutter, the hen who is due to hatch her new chicks in the coming week, and her guardian-escort, Gooberoo, were installed in the other section of the room.
We brought in the cage Fluffernutter and Gooberoo had both used when they were injured. It's a big cage made for a large breed dog and they feel safe in there. Fluffernutter needed a temporary nest, so we put her eggs on top of some bedding in a bottled water carton and moved that along with a food dish and a waterer into the cage and left the cage door open so they could go in and out as they chose.
Goobie is a little guy, weighing in at about two pounds. Since shortly after he was hatched, he's seen himself as a real Lothario. The hens have held another opinion and little Gooberoo never did have many slots filled on his dance card. Today his entire world changed.
For nearly a week, the Reds had been fascinated by the sounds of unseen roosters crowing in the other room and outside. Every crow got their rapt attention. They'd stop whatever they'd been doing (milling about, scratching around in the bedding, gossiping in that secret language they have) and stand still, gaping in the direction of the crows.
When Fluffernutter and Gooberoo were moved into their new quarters, Goobie immediately spotted the hens on the other side of the gate. Determined to impress them with his roosterly charms and put any other males in the vicinity on notice, he crowed his little heart out.
The gals came racing over to the gate. A rooster! A rooster they could SEE! Never having seen one before, they had no idea Gooberoo was er lacking. He was a real rooster! Right there in front of them! He was on the other side of the gate, but there he was.
Suddenly faced with the kind of attention from hens he'd always craved but had never gotten, our Goob took the only course of action he could think of --- he ran around behind the cage to hide from them. After a few tentative peeks around the corner to find the hens had drifted away, he decided to go at it with that ever popular standby of rooster courtship - telling lies.
Roosters are a peculiar mix of absurd machismo and old fashioned gentlemanliness. When a rooster finds food, before eating it he will make a "nuck nuck nuck" sound to let the hens know he has treats to share with them. He picks up bits of the food and drops it back to the ground so the hens can see he's offering it to them.. While this "nuck nuck nuck" stuff is reminiscent of a Three Stooges movie to you and me, and therefore not exactly romantic, it's a big draw with the hens. They all come running. When a rooster sees all the hens hanging around his rival, he has two options to steal them away - by beating up the other rooster or by telling lies. "Nuck nuck nuck" and all the hens come running to see what kind of taste delight awaits them. When they discover there's nothing, they don't seem to mind having been tricked. They take a philosophical attitude and just set about scratching and pecking.
So it was with Gooberoo. Standing inches from the gate, but pretending not to notice the girls on the other side, he scratched the bedding furiously, turned, muttered to himself, scratched some more. Then it came "Nuck nuck nuck." "Nuck nuck nuck." "nuck nuck nuck nuck nuck nuck nuck." The hens fell for it. They ran over to the gate, jostling each other aside to get closer to him. Goobie turned his head away, still refusing to admit he had any idea there were hens there. "Who me? I'm just having a little snack here. Never mind me. Nuck nuck nuck." When the promised food failed to materialize, the hens gradually drifted away again. Goobie nucked again. The hens came running. No food. The hens wandered off. Goobie nucked .
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.