Dega: Remember what the chicken said to the weasel?
Papillon: If he was a healthy weasel, the chicken didn’t get a chance to say anything.
My husband & I recently watched the movie Papillon and the quote above really resonated with me. Four months ago, I used part of my Mom Central grant money to buy 6 laying hens. In the weeks since my last update, we’ve lost two of our 6 chickens. Not to a weasel, but to a hawk. A very, very large hawk, cinnamon in color, and brazen. The last visit the hawk paid ended with the bird swooping down several feet away from where I stood with the chickens, scraping his/ her talons on the driveway loudly, before ascending quickly and flying away. The hawk means BUSINESS.
Until the end of August, I let the chickens wander freely throughout the yard, grazing leisurely and returning to their coop at will. But no more. The first chicken was taken 6 weeks ago, while the flock stood unguarded. The second, two weeks ago, when I was briefly inside. We found nothing of the first chicken. Of the second, a few handfuls of feathers. I gathered them up and placed them in a vase inside. It pains me to think of their last minutes of life. It takes mere seconds for a chicken to be snatched; I won’t take the chance again.
Thankfully, the chickens don’t seem to mind spending time in their coop. There’s plenty of space – ironically, extra space, now that 2 of the flock are gone. They dust bathe, eat heartily and go about their chicken business. I let them out periodically throughout the day, standing guard over them. There’s an unspoken trust between us, and whenever a shadow passes overhead, they scurry towards me or the closest bush. They follow my lead, and when I say, “Come Chickens!” – surprisingly, they come. It’s a little funny, and never fails to pull at my heartstrings.
Our year-old Rottweiler puppy, Roxy, also does her part. You can see her in the photo above, the black mass behind the birds. You’d think a frisky puppy might harass the hens, but Roxy’s more intent on garnering my love, so she helps herd as well as guard the flock. The dog will even calmly eat as the chickens look on. No food aggression here. Except for the *%$&@#! hawk.
Apart from the losses, the chickens are doing very well. At 16 weeks, they’re almost fully grown and now sport combs and sturdy chicken legs. Their feathers are soft and luxurious, their tails fluffy and erect.
Chickens begin to lay somewhere between 18 and 22 weeks of age, so we should be seeing some eggs soon. I check the coop daily, but nothing yet. Hopefully by the next update, I’ll have something to report. My only concern? The chickens, as much as they enjoy hanging out in their hen house, seem to sleep strictly outside. They like to roost in the rafters.
Even on nights when the temperature dips into the 30s, the chickens appear to be roosting outside. As a comfort and warmth-seeking human, this makes little sense to me. But from a chicken’s perspective? Chickens seek out the highest perch wherever they are. And the chicken with the highest perch is considered top chicken. My hens, rather than hole up in their hen house, seem to be striving for TOP BIRD. Either that, or they just like it. Who knows? My only concern is that they’ll start laying while they’re up there. And I’ll wind up with a whole lotta scrambled eggs.
Perhaps it’s because the chickens are spending more time confined in their coop that the Eden-like harmony of earlier days seems shaken somewhat. Don’t get me wrong; the hens seem to get along with one another. But there’s a definite (to me, indiscernible) hierarchy in the hen house ranks. The chickens now, when they’re out free ranging, go through iterations of what I’ve dubbed the “Face Off.” One chicken will become startled, or bothered, or something. She will puff up and lunge at a neighbor chicken, for whatever the perceived slight. The chickens will stare each other down. Then almost as quickly as it began, the “Face Off” is over and the chickens resume pecking and doing their things. It’s strangely fascinating.
Fortunately the pecking order seems well established, and the chickens for the most part spend their days happily chilling out together. I love it.