Thursday, February 18, 2016

A healthy respect

It would seem that after Molly's misadventure with the chickens the other day (see previous post: Gretchen - warrior rooster) she has developed a healthy respect for the chickens. Actually it tips the scales closer to fear. Ask her now if she has to go out to go potty and she'll perk up, wagging her tail and heading toward the door to her territory (aka the master bedroom.) But if it is still light out, that's as far as she will go. She has made the connection that daylight means the chickens are out and could ambush her at any moment, and so long as they are out she has determined that she won't be. Put her outside and she cowers on the back deck, tail tucked between her legs. Even if the chickens are not actually visible, she is certain that they lurk somewhere nearby, ready to chase her the minute she starts to pee. As this is a relatively new situation I am not sure what exactly we are going to do to remedy it. In the short term we have been taking her out to the front yard to go to the bathroom but this is far from ideal as she has been known to take off into the neighbor's yard to chase their cat or run after people walking past the house. Maybe some kind of canine-galline desensitization therapy in which we place a chicken in the same room with Molly for longer and longer periods of time. Or is it that you add more and more chickens in the room? Something like that. Or maybe we need to increase her dosage of prozac. Or maybe some kind of dog therapist. To be honest, she probably needs more prozac and a therapist as a matter of course anyway. She is far from well adjusted. Probably the next big project we'll need to tackle here on the Unfarm.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gretchen - warrior rooster

The routine for letting the dogs - or rather Scout - out in the backyard has become more complicated now that he is full grown and no longer an eight pound puppy who can be bossed around by the chickens. Before we can let Scout out we have to do a head count of the chickens and establish that they are, indeed, all out of the dog run. This is best accomplished by tossing a scoop full of squirrel food off the deck over by the blueberry bushes. The chickens are, by this point, used to the sound of the squirrel food bin opening and know to come running from whatever part of the yard they are in if they want an easy meal. Which they always do. If all five chickens start pecking the ground for bits of sunflower seeds and corn we know that we are in the clear and Scout is free to go out. If one or two chickens have flown into the dog run we have to entice them out with additional scoopfuls of squirrel food before we can let Scout roam freely. 

It happens, though, that on occasion one of us (cough "dad") fails to do a proper head count and just opens the back door and hopes for the best. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, Scout's exit is quickly followed by a barrage of squawking and a great deal of flapping about as whichever chicken attempts to flee from a rather exuberant Scout intent on playing with them. We quickly intercede on behalf of our frazzled chicken and wrangle Scout, hopefully before any damage can be done. 

Axel and Molly do not require such maneuverings before being let out because Axel was raised on a farm with chickens and has learned to ignore them and Molly is about the same size as the chickens and is too fearful to try and take on any of them by herself. This does not mean that she will not join in with Scout if he is chasing a chicken: she will. Safety in numbers, I guess.

99% of the time when the dogs are in the dog run, the chickens know enough to stay out of it until the dogs return to the house. But there is that one percent. This happened a few days ago when Lucy decided to fly into the dog run while Scout and Molly were still in it. The chase was on. Molly and Scout started chasing, Lucy started running and squawking and then in came Gretchen. Bravely coming to the aid of his wife, he flew over the dog run fence and began chasing Molly. Molly, for her part, was completely taken aback by this startling turn of events and did what any sensible ten pound dog would do when being chased by a full sized rooster: she ran up onto the deck and hid between Axel's legs. While this was going on, Lucy seized the opportunity to fly back over the dog run fence and into the safety of the rest of the yard. Gretchen celebrated his victory by strutting back and forth a few times, crowing, and then flying back into the yard with Lucy. Who would have guessed that under all those fancy feathers lurked the heart of a warrior, ready to leap into action to defend his hens whenever the need should arise? I must admit that I have rather a little more respect for our little rooster-cum-warrior.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A wife and a mistress

Our most recent batch of chickens included, much to our dismay, a rooster. The last time we ended up with a rooster we had to re-home him when he started crowing. This time, instead of re-homing him as soon as we realized we had another rooster on our hands, we decided to wait. "Maybe he won't crow and we can keep him," we thought with unwarrented optimism. Several months into Gretchen's adolescence we began hearing the ragged beginnings of a "cockle-doodle-doo." We were able to fix that with a homemade no-crow collar which, while not silencing him completely, does take his crowing volume down several notches, enough to be tolerable for the neighbors. His affinity for the ladies is a problem not so easily fixed. 

While having a rooster around is supposed to be good for egg production, it does tend to annoy the ladies when he's feeling amorous. This is usually first thing in the morning, as soon as the chickens have been let out of the coop. Gretchen is always the first one out of the coop, followed in varying order by Bridget, Lucy, and Georgia. Penny is usually the last one out of the coop, choosing to slip out when she thinks the coast is clear. As soon as the ladies hop out, Gretchen starts looking for his victim, which is usually Bridget. After a short chase, Gretchen manages to pin Bridget down and a few seconds later Bridget runs off and Gretchen goes about his business of looking for something to eat.

For the rest of the day, however, Gretchen appears to faithfully spend his time with Lucy. If Lucy is foraging in the garden, Gretchen is usually found nearby looking for bugs with her and if Gretchen is on the back deck, raiding the squirrel food bin, Lucy is often sitting inside said bin, gorging herself on corn and sunflower seeds. 

Within our little flock, Bridget appears to be the mistress, the hen that Gretchen chooses most often to sleep with and Lucy appears to be the wife, the hen that Gretchen chooses most often to spend his time with. This arrangement seems to please Lucy just fine. Bridget seems decidedly less pleased with the situation. Unfortunately, there is no collar available to fix this problem. The ladies will just have to put up with it, or learn to run faster.