Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Queen of the Chimenea

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Winter

Chickens have a reputation for being dumb, but I'm here to tell you that's just propaganda put out by duck people.  Chickens are born smart - or at least with a good set of survival instincts - and as they get older they get craftier.

It's ducks that are dumb.

Two years ago I started the spring with two dozen baby chicks, a couple of feeders and waterers, and a big bag of feed.  There were no adult chickens at The Roost to show these one-or-two-day old babies what to do, yet they instinctively knew to eat at the feeder, drink at the waterer, and take long naps under the heat lamp.  As they got older and began wandering out into the yard in search of bugs, the young chickens knew to run for cover whenever a strange dog appeared or the shadow of a hawk glided across the lawn.

I had ducks once that would let the big farm dogs carry them around in their mouths.  That is just begging to be eaten!

But a hen's real intelligence shines through when they are about five-months-old and begin to lay eggs. Without a single older hen around to show them the process, mine knew to hop up into one of the straw-filled nesting boxes nailed to the inner wall of the coop, and deposit their eggs there.  At a time when their world was open to ten acres of farm land with plenty of trees and brush piles, somehow they knew exactly where those big, and undoubtedly painful, eggs belonged.

By the following spring when the girls had figured out that the farmer would always find their eggs in the hen house and take them, a few began getting sneaky.  Some days egg production would appear to have suddenly dropped to half of what it normally would be.  It was then that the farmer knew to get out and start looking for hiding spots.  One hen would find a nice place to scoop out a nest at the base of a brush pile, or behind a stack of boards, and deposit her daily duty there, and others would soon figure it out and begin hiding theirs in the same spot.  But eventually the persistent old farmer would find them and clean it out - throwing the eggs away because he couldn't be sure how old they were.  Then the girls would dutifully head back to the hen house and resume doing their business in the nesting boxes.

One afternoon last week as I headed out the back door, I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, a fat brown hen hopping into the chimenea that sits on a corner of the back deck.  Checking later I found that she hadn't left an egg there, but I had suspicion that it was on her "to do" list.  The next day I put some straw in the unused clay chimenea - and the following day was rewarded with an egg for my efforts.

That's pretty handy.  The little hen gets to feel like a rebel, and Pa Rock has breakfast delivered almost to the kitchen table.

I'd like to see a duck do that!

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