Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moving chickens in the dark

I am reminded of Tom Lehrer's infamous song "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" as Tina and I make our way through the dark, each carrying a tote with four chickens inside.  We are "Moving Chickens in the Dark," a much less pernicious lyric, but kind of funny all the same.

Why are we doing this?  A load of hay is coming soon.  The chickens that joined the farm in June have been residing in a pen where the hay has to go.  So for the last couple of weeks, Androo, Allen and I have been working on the new chicken run - a place where these smaller chickens can go and get at least a little protection from the predators with whom I share this land.  Last year I put them out too soon, in too open a space, and the hawks got seven of my chicks in short order.  Not this year!

We moved the Moop inside the run, which thoroughly confused the nine who have been living there for the past year.  The Moop moved about twenty feet, but the chickens continued to hang around the bare spot of earth where the Moop was sitting until a few days ago.  On the fourth night, all of them finally decided to move back in and quit roosting in trees that overhang the old spot. 

So why were we doing this in the dark?  Chickens become quite docile in the dark.  There is no way we could have rounded up 37 chickens in the daylight, even contained in a 15' x 15' pen!  So Tina came out about 9:00, two totes in hand (which certainly beat my idea of carrying one under each arm!).  I would sneak into the pen with the totes and pick up four birds one at a time, put in the tote and then hand it out to Tina.  I would repeat this operation with the second tote, then leave the pen with it in hand.  Off to the new chicken run, where I got into the Moop with a tote, carefully removed the chickens one at a time, and made sure that their claws were firmly around a roost.  Then I handed out the empty tote, Tina handed in the second one with four more chicks, and the operation was repeated.  Back to the barn, two more totes, and so on, until all 37 chickens were safely in the Moop.

Yesterday when I let them out, I didn't know what would happen.  It was pretty good news.  While the older chickens escaped (we are still working on fixing escape routes), the new ones stayed in.  They ate about half as much food as usual, and surprisingly drank a lot less water.  But then I realized that worms and grubs have a pretty high water content, especially when compared to the ground up grain that has been their diet to date.

Interesting thing with the layers, the "old" girls - they all escaped.  So I thought I would get NO eggs yesterday, that they would wild lay and as usual I would be hard put to find them.  They are molting, and between that and wild laying, I have been getting only one or two eggs a day, several days none at all.  Well, leave it to these weird Campines!  When they had to sneak back in to lay, I found three eggs in the nests yesterday.  Yup, that's right, when the nests were readily available, they layed in the bushes.  When the Moop got moved behind a fence (from which they had escaped early in the morning), then they sneaked back inside to lay their eggs.  Gotta love 'em!

But back to the new chicks.  The hay showed up two and a half hours late.  Dusk fell while we waited, and I checked on the new chicks.  They were not going into the Moop to roost.  I could hear the coyotes, one of them really close!  I know they have to live too, but please, not on my chickens!  And those Buckeyes are such fat little things.  By the time the hay finally came, full dark had set in.  I checked the chicks before starting on hay, and only a couple of them had made their way onto the roosts in the Moop.  The others were sitting on top of the feed containers, just like they did in their pen in the barn, or were huddled underneath the Moop.  This was not good!  If a chicken could escape the Moop, then any kind of critter could get in and make a meal of my chickens.  I fretted about it the whole time we were stacking hay in the barn.  When the last of the workers left, I decided rather than sleeping on my chaise lounge in the pen, I would try to get them all inside the Moop.  I went to work, small flashlight in hand, and pulled them one by one from under the truck, amid much protesting!  I swear that those Buckeyes were calling out, "Help!  Help!  HELP!!!"  Yes, that is truly what it sounded like!  I would stroke each one and say, "The coyotes are not going to get you.  The coyotes are not going to get you."  They would quiet down, I would make sure their little feet were firmly on the roost, and then I would head back for another.  Finally, with the help of a broom handle, the last two chicks were pulled from under the truck and put in the Moop.

I wonder how many nights this will have to go on before they figure it out.  I'm tired!!!

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