Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chickens: the opposite of elusive

The field where Jethro and his six chickens roam has a very strange drainage pattern. I never noticed it before, because before they lived there, I didn't care how the rain ran off the field, and since they've lived there, it's barely rained.

But it rained for a couple days last week and there it was: a big, shallow, wide, unwelcome lake in the mini-valley between two gentle inclines. Where the water would prefer to run off into the woods, there is a hillock which stops it from leaving. This makes for a big mud flat.

Since a shovel goes easily into the dirt after a good soaking, I decided to attack the hillock and take it down, using the dirt to fill in numerous other dips and holes around the field. It's a big job, a lot of digging, hours and hours so far. Yesterday I was digging in the snow. It's hard for me to stop a project like this once I've started.

My Buckeye hens figured out a shovel is even better than a rake for uncovering their favorite nematodes, worms, etc, - over the past few days they have become more and more fearless and greedy, aggressively feasting while I dig.

It's gotten so every shovelful of dirt commences with the shooing away of two or three birds, and then the lifted shovel is weighed down by those same fluttering, teetering chickens trying to hold tight to the shovel's edge. They flap to stay upright as I lift the dirt towards the bucket, they're scanning for the last few morsels. It's utterly ridiculous.

Their attachment to the pickaxe is just as annoying and even more frightening. I look at the locations of all three plump brown scavengers and try to pick a place to strike where there is no chicken-body. However, they're watching me closely and, as each wants to be first to examine the dirt opened up by the pick, they crowd in quickly and their little bitty heads are sometimes just a feather's width away from being cleft. So it's like this: push chickens, pick, push chickens, pick, push chickens, pick.

Sometimes I catch a break when one of the chickens discovers something really good - yesterday, for instance, a tiny snake. The successful chicken needs to put her treasure down in order to smite it apart with her beak, she can't eat it whole; however, if she puts it down for even a nano-second one of the others will snatch it from her.

Soon all six are involved in the skirmish. The one with the snake dangling from her mouth runs like crazy, all the others run behind, try to intercept her. She tries to put it down, they try to snatch it. Round and round they go. I never see the outcome of this game but it ends suddenly - with ingestion, I suppose.

(Since, as it turns out, two of my three black Javas are roosters, this game becomes even more ludicrous, with the roosters - who never stoop to shovel-worship - trying not only to steal the Buckeye's worm but hump her in the process, sometimes both on her back at once. So far they are easily shaken off, being young and incompetent.)

When my bucket of dirt is full - I estimate chicken-pushing adds 50% to the time this takes - I drop the shovel and haul the dirt up the hill. When the sun is behind me, I see my weary shadow and, perky and alert, several chicken shadows flanking me on each side. I dump the dirt, they dive on it, making happy chirping noises. You'd think that would keep them for a while, but no - as soon as I head down the hill with the empty bucket, they're running right behind me.

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At 4:42 PM, Anonymous susanlynn said...

You know that phrase, ''Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.''??? Well, you have now discovered that chickens run around with or without their heads. ~~~Susanlynn, chicken hater who used to cheerfully choose the next chicken victim for slaughter as a child


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