by Henry Lane Hull
This far ahead of Christmas I am not certain the full impact of the season has dawned on our barnyard. The goat, who easily could pass for a reindeer, perhaps not to a veterinarian, but clearly to any passerby unschooled in animal husbandry, seems to be behaving in a particularly solicitous manner. Obviously, she is expecting special Christmas treats, which indeed she will receive.
She has two mismatched horns inasmuch as she lost one in her youth and the other about three years ago. Each has regrown, but at different lengths and angles. She comes for attention and to give affection whether one is bringing her food or not. On March 21st we shall be celebrating her 10th birthday, but now the focus is on Christmas. Knowing that the Joyful Season is coming, she even has tolerated, or I should say “somewhat” tolerated, having her hooves trimmed, usually a more major undertaking.
Gladys and Lew, the goose and gander, also sense that they too will be celebrating. She remains her normal bossy self and he the tolerant, docile spouse, putting up with her, rarely honking, after all she does enough of that for an army of geese and always trying to make up for her social gaffes. He is truly a dear animal, ever the perfect gentleman, despite living with a boisterous wife.
Half of the flock of chickens hatched, or should I say “were born”?, this year, hence this Christmas will be their first. Not being an animal psychologist I cannot presume to psychoanalyze the differences between last year’s flock and this year’s, but distinct variations do exist. The members of last year’s crop are diffident and somewhat aggressive, whereas this year’s are far more tame and sociable. Clearly the topknot on the previous flock is larger than that of the young ones and I question whether it secretes a mysterious hormone that makes them less personable.
One of this year’s prodigies is a truly lovely animal. She comes for hand-feeding and basks in personal attention. Another, recognizing what that one is getting, has decided to join ranks and works to butter me up when feeding time comes. I can discern which is which for two reasons: the nice chicken has a good amount of white in her neck feathers and the other follows her in close pursuit, although she has less distinctive markings.
I regret to have to say that at Christmas time jealousy does play a part in the behavior patterns of some of the flock. When my back is turned they are outright unfriendly to the two sweet hens. In addition, perhaps because of my personal attention, the two special pets have become much more plump. They have learned on which side their toast is buttered, if I may use a colloquialism more applicable to a cow.
From first observing them in chickhood I have noticed that the one is more advanced in intelligence than the rest of the flock put together. She and I have scintillating conversations and she enjoys being held and carried around. Only one member of the flock is a native to the barnyard. She is a small black hen, the daughter of our sole rooster, a bantam silky and one of his late spouses. As a result she is medium size and tends to be off to herself. Food and water seem to be her only interests in life.
As to the poor rooster, he is a genuine second-class citizen. The hens push him away from the food to grab as much as they can for themselves and his pathetic little crowing might be charming in its own right, but does not present the image of a man in charge. I try to make amends by giving him extra portions of corn, but even then the hens try to get to it ahead of him.
I still am conjuring up the barnyard Christmas menu, which I hope will be to everyone’s liking. Indeed, serving a barnyard of such disparate tastes is challenging, but fulfilling as well, although I wish the hens would start laying again, even if it is cold weather.