I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The bird days of spring...

Yesterday was just bizarre.

Fred finished up the chicken coop on Thursday, working his butt off to get it completed, well more like two fingers and several layers of skin, and surprisingly, he was completely done before dark. It is fully equipped with two nesting boxes (which the chickens will not need for some time), a perch (which they will need sooner, although they do not quite understand that yet) and three doors (one with a ramp into their “yard” of their coop, a big one for mucking the house, and one for access into our back yard.) It is quite the palatial mansion of chickendom.

So instead of bringing the chickens back into the bathroom after spending the day in the yard of the coop, which had been our original intent, the chickens spent Thursday night in their new digs. Just before sundown we settled them in the house of their coop and watched them furiously eat their pine shaving bedding as fast as they could. Everything I have read seems to indicate that pine shavings make the best liter because they reduce odor and are very absorbent. A friend warned me early on that cedar shavings, while they smell great, can be deadly to chickens causing some kind of respiratory disease. No one mentioned a word about the chickens ingesting their bedding?!

I am at a loss as to whether or not eating the pine shavings will be harmful. Eventually, after the newness wore off, they settled down and started acting a little more normal (for chickens) and only occasionally picked at their bedding choosing their food dispenser instead. I had spent most of the afternoon, while Fred finished coop construction, trying to train my flock to drink from a gerbil waterer. One of the many reference books said that this was the cleanest way to provide lots of fresh drinking water for the girls and it keeps them from running through their water or filling it with bedding and droppings.

This was a seriously hysterical exercise. To begin with I placed their water dish, the waterer and their food bowl all in close proximity within their yard. I took the box of raisins and sat down in the yard with them. Let me tell you these chickens would make terrible spies they would sell their grandma to the devil for a box of Sunmaid. I coaxed the chickens over to me with raisins and then I started tapping on the ball in the tube of the dispenser so they could see and taste that there was water there. I held my finger out with a few drops of water on it (this got my finger soundly pecked). Then I reached back up and tapped the ball a few more times. The ladies looked at me with puzzled chicken amusement. They obviously think I am insane.

At this point I considered admitting defeat. The chicken-lady at Green’s, who has been extremely helpful and full of good advice, pretty much laughed at Fred when he told her why I wanted a gerbil waterer. She said chickens do not have tongues so drinking out of one of those would be nearly impossible. Fred had bought a traditional trough waterer which I promptly made him return. I would prove my vast chicken training skills and I would keep my coop marginally cleaner by training my chickens-of-superior-intelligence to drink from the gerbil waterer. It was starting to look iffy. I reached over and picked up Miranda-chicken.

(Let me stop for a second to tell you that the chickens have developed enough distinct personality and looks for us to give them names. They have been named for myself and my three dear friends in honor of the fact that when we get together we sound like a bunch of clucking hens. They are named as follows: Stacy-chicken, Miranda-chicken, Gina-chicken and Autumn-chicken. I do not know if it is luck or transference but ever since we named them a week or so ago, they have begun to take on the personality qualities and behaviors of their namesakes, it is extremely funny.)

Miranda-chicken is in the middle of the flock size wise and she is one of the calmer birds. I held her up to the waterer and reached out with my thumb to press the ball. Water immediately welled up on my digit and she excitedly began bobbing her head. I thought, “Awesome! This is it, she has got it.” I set her down and she immediately began to peck the grass where the water had fallen. Ok, so they are not going to be brain surgeon chickens. I sighed. How did I get them to realize they needed to tap the ball to get the water?

The good thing about Miranda-chicken’s interest in the grass under the waterer was it sparked everyone else’s curiosity too. Cats’ curiosity has nothing on chickens’. Those girls cannot stand the thought of someone getting something they are being left out on. They will cluck and squawk and steal and just generally throw a fit trying to get something someone else has. So everyone crowded under the waterer where the drop had disappeared. Amidst this maylay the waterer was inadvertently jostled several times. This resulted in a series of drops falling from the spout. Now the real hilarity ensued, picture four ugly chickens bobbing their heads trying to catch water droplets.

This went on for quite some time. I kept tapping the ball thinking eventually one of them would realize where the water was coming from. Quite some time later one of them accidentally hit the ball with the side of their beak. When she realized that water came out she then began trying to drink from the side of her mouth, not exactly the most efficient means of consuming water, since when she opened her beak to let the water in the majority of it promptly slid out the other side. She became the functioning water dispenser for the other chickens who promptly lined up underneath her and began drinking greedily. That did not last too long. When she realized everyone was getting something she was not she quickly began pecking at their heads. Okay back to square one.

So I pulled them away from the waterer and stuck a raisin in it. The raisin allowed for a slow drip of water to come out. I hoped that once one of them realized there was a raisin there they would start to peck at the ball thus releasing the water and learning to drink from the dispenser. No such luck, these chickens, who are absolutely mad for raisins, ignored that raisin and the water dripping around it like it had the plague. SIGH.

I seriously thought I was going to have to return to Green’s waterer in hand and admit defeat. I was already contemplating tossing out the gerbil waterer and catalog ordering a traditional waterer so that I would not have to face complete humiliation in the feed store, when: one of the chickens in a staggering half mad chicken fit ran beak first into the waterer. Realizing there was a raisin there she promptly pulled it out and ate it while water dripped on her head. When she realized there was water she began pecking her beak into the dispenser. Eureka! She got it. Of course everyone else quickly followed suit assuming she has something they wanted and there was quickly a run on the water dispenser. Yay! Victory! So that is how the chickens learned to drink from the gerbil waterer. They poke the tip of their beak against the ball and that releases the vacuum allowing water to flow into their mouths. It keeps their water fresh and clean and provides a greater source of water than traditional trough dispensers.

Thursday night after all the construction and the drama Fred, the chickens and myself were exhausted. So we put the chickens in their house, closed up all the doors so they would not accidentally fall out or be eaten by anything, and went to bed.

Friday morning we headed out to see how they had faired through the night. We found them huddled in a tight ball under the warming lamp fast asleep. So much for “getting up with the chickens” apparently we get up way before the chickens even think about leaving their nice warm digs. We removed the panel blocking the door to the ramp which leads to the yard inside their pen. I moved their food and water down into the yard hoping this would coax them down the ramp and into the grass. Um, no such luck. After we had tried this for several minutes we then tried putting one chicken down in the yard hoping the others would realized where she was and head down after her. This did not work either. In fact, this resulted in some seriously traumatized chickens all standing in one corner, albeit on different floors and peeping their little forlorn hearts out.

Then we tried to move two chickens into the yard hoping that with even numbers up and down someone would make a decision to reunite the flock with everyone either moving back into the house or down into the yard. More peeping ensued. We put a Hansel and Gretel trail of raisins on the ramp. No go. We finally resorted into taking the chickens into the yard, putting them on the ramp and then reaching them up through the hole in the floor to be reunited with their sisters. The chickens treated this like a David Copperfield-esque illusion of epic proportions, the onlookers being completely amazed and stunned every time one of their sisters appeared through the magic hole in the floor but this still did not convince them to try the ramp.

Finally we gave up and put them back in the house leaving the door to the floor open so if they chose to venture down they could. Friday was a damp soggy day though and when we came home from all our adventures we found the chickens exactly where we had left them only significantly more hungry and thirsty since the food and water had been in the yard all afternoon. We moved the food and water back up into the house, gave them a few treats and shut them back in for the night. It is now a little after seven thirty on Saturday morning and it is raining buckets. We have not headed out to check on them yet but I guarantee there is no hurry considering the cool temperatures and the damp weather they will definitely want to spend the day in their house. We will go out in a bit to make sure they have food and water and that the warming light is working.

So that brings you up to date on the chickens and their stressful lives at Chicken University but it probably does not do much to explain the title of this blog or the opening sentence. Yesterday we had to go to town. We needed an estimate on some care repairs and we needed a new inspection sticker. This was pretty much an all afternoon ordeal so we dropped the car off, had some coffee, caught a movie and goofed around town. After we picked the car up we figured we would grab some Indian food for dinner. The Indian restaurant does not open until five so we had about an hour or so to kill. We decided we would head over to the feed store to pick up another waterer and a new leash and collar for the dog.

While we were there wandering around the coveralls we heard “peep peep peep” we walked over to the bucket and saw one tiny little chick peeping its heart out all by its lonesome under the warming light. It was teeny and bright yellow more round then our girls and with a funny looking beak. It immediately took a liking to Fred and came over to the edge of the bucket. Fred stooped down to read the tag attached to the side. It was a special order slip for three turkeys. A turkey? Ok, that explained its funny looking beak. Fred immediately put the kibosh on turkey ownership but as we walked away from the bucket it began to forlornly peep again.

I asked Fred how bad could it possibly be? We could keep it in the tub for a week or two then toss it in the coop with the chickens. Fred said no. The little baby turkey increased its desperate pleading peeps. Fred started to crack. I said go find the chicken lady and see what she says. If it would not hurt the chickens and the chickens would not hurt it then what was the harm. We had decided to get a turkey. Fred went off to find her as I perused the hats. Fred came back with a despondent look and the chicken-lady in tow.

“You don’t want that turkey,” she said.

“Why is it sick? Is something wrong with it?” I asked.

“Um sort of,” she hedged.

I pressed. That was not a good enough answer for me. And anyone who knows me knows I specialize in special needs animals. Even the vets pawn off damaged stragglers on me. She finally told me it had a double breast. I was confused. Was this some kind of turkey birth defect that left the poor thing seriously deformed? I did not really care if it was especially ugly, I mean what turkey is pretty, right? I told her as much and she finally came clean and told me it would not live past a year old and if it did we would have to kill it. WHAT?!

Apparently the term “double-breasted” is not a birth defect at all. Instead it is a man-manipulated, i.e. genetically mutation breeding trait that causes a turkey to be born with the muscle tissue of the breast being twice as large as what nature intended. This means that around or before the time the turkey reaches one year old its breast tissue will become so large that its legs will break under the weight. I am sorry this is cruel and I am sure this is not what God intended when he gave man stewardship of the Earth. This to me is a lack of responsibility and a prime example of the wretched gap we have put between ourselves and our food sources.

Please think about this when you buy your turkeys this Thanksgiving. No animal should be bred for the ultimate fate of breaking its own legs. If we all say no, if we all make smarter, more educated more compassionate choices then there will be no market for this cruelty and if there is no market for it then breeders will have to bend to the will of the consumer and stop doing things that are so atrociously cruel.

Needless to say, we left the feed store without the poor little doomed turkey and in a stupor of depression over man’s lack of a sense of responsibility and cruelty to the animals in our care. As we half heartedly drove toward the Indian restaurant Fred exclaimed “oh no!” I thought great what now? Are we driving up on an accident? As Fred pointed and I looked down in the road their lay a half grown dove in the middle of the intersection. At first we thought it was dead, struck by a car, but then as we looked we could see it blinking and its head moving from side to side. It was terrified.

Fred did a U-turn and went back, he had to do a few more tricky car maneuvers (I was sure someone would run over it before we got back) before we pulled back up to the intersection. He stopped the car and turned on the flashers. I jumped out and scooped the baby into my hands. While Fred blocked traffic I ran across the street and placed the baby in the grass neatly tucked under some shrubbery. It did not appear to have any broken wings and looked as though it may have been learning to fly and either stunned by a car or landed in the road and became terrified. I put it there hoping its mother was close and would tend it.

Seeing as how we were down town I do not expect there were lots of cats or dogs running loose to eat it before its mother could come, however, on our way home we took an extra take out box and decided if it was still there it must be hurt and we would take it home to tend it. It was no longer there and I am choosing to believe its mother came for it. (Please do not rain on my parade with any opposing theories!)

So as you can see we had an adventurous few days surrounding all things avian. We will be at the Kanawha Valley Sustainability Fair today at the ReStore diagonally across from Green’s. We will be there manning the KVBA booth so please stop by and see us. There will be lots of great information and lots of good food.

Thanks for reading,
Much love,


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