by Henry Lane Hull
This spring’s crop of baby chicks has been unusual to say the least. All six have matured quite nicely and with their red plumage, they give great visual pleasure. Two of the six have become genuine pets, liking to be picked up, held and stroked. They also expect personalized feeding, by which I mean they like to dine out of a container that I am holding while they consume the contents. Sometimes that gets a bit old, but I try not to disappoint them.
In our absence last month, the Elder B.E. kept them well fed and watered, but he was unaware of the peculiar demands of the two imprinted chicks and did not go to the lengths of holding their food container while they ate. Apparently, they quickly learned that such personalized service could not be expected at every meal, but they appreciated his holding and petting them. Upon my return, they again demanded the hand-held measures while dining.
One of the two has expressed interest in sitting on my shoulder while I am about my barnyard chores, an experience my father had with a pet rooster when I was a child. I have discouraged such behavior. In my opinion I can imprint them, but they should not view such behavior as a two-way street and thereby think that they can imprint me. It is all very friendly and I think they understand.
Our chicken coop is large and commodious, with several feeding and watering stations and fresh straw on the ground. Being chickens, they like to scratch and with the exception of the two aforementioned, prefer ground feeding to container-held meals. Several of them even go so far as to upset the food containers in order to be able to scratch more comfortably.
One day recently I apparently did not properly shut the southern gate to the coop, resulting in the chickens enjoying a more expansive smorgasbord. The goat decided that if they were taking from her plate, she should do the same from theirs and went in the coop and ate their corn. She has wanted to get inside the coop ever since she was born a few feet away nine years ago, although she has delightful quarters of her own adjoining the coop, with a private entryway.
The Elder B.E. succeeded in enticing the escaped flock back into their own home. The geese wisely decided to remain inside the entire time the gate was ajar. Perhaps they remembered the sad day last year when our pet Dominecker rooster, Spot, was carried away by a fox, an event my Good Wife captured on her cell phone camera. Spot was a lovely animal, very gentle and friendly. Initially, he probably thought the fox was a friend he had not met previously.
Both chickens and geese have appreciated my efforts at organic gardening, enjoying the greenery as a means of balancing their diets, for after all, anyone can grow tired of corn all the time. Last year’s four hens have been productive, usually each offering an egg a day, but three of them have gone on strike during the recent spate of hot days. Chickens do not like to lay in extremes of weather, whether they be hot or cold.
Now that the chicks are almost full grown, the bantam silky rooster is smaller than all of the fowl. He lets the hens beat him to the food and tries to strut around as if he is in charge; perhaps he has a “small rooster” complex? He never has been mean or aggressive, but neither has he been friendly in the manner Spot was. Quite frankly, that might be the result of his never having been given a name. He is a truly handsome animal, albeit a short one, as all bantams are. His bantam mate died two years ago and he has not been able to pair off with the larger hens as well as he did with her. Their sole offspring predeceased the mother hen, thus he is the only bantam on the block (by no means the chopping block!).
I get a backache from being in a stooped position holding the food container while the two special pets eat, but seeing their pleasure and recognizing their friendship eases the ache and I try to compensate by exercise thereafter, for such is a part of life in the chicken coop.