Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Things That Chickens Do

I got an email in response to the "Sheep Are Stupid" post saying , "Sheep are dumb, but chickens are the really stupidest animal on a farm." Um, might be true. My vote is that sheep are worse than chickens, but its a close call. But again I maintain, it's not that they are stupid, it's just that they think differently from humans. We put them into a human oriented environment then call them dumb when they fail. Philosophy aside........

Baby chicks appear to have far less sense than adults. They'll step into their water bowl and not be able to figure out how to get out again. I've rescued hypothermic chicks, having to dry them off and warm them up. I finally made mesh guards to prevent them from killing themselves. Then the silly chicks would fall asleep atop the mesh, and as they dosed off their necks would drop. Down their little beaks go into the water. None drowned this way, they all woke up. But they never seemed to learn. I switched to a different brand of chick waterer. Still had to make a mesh guard for it. For some reason some of them can't manage to figure out how to step up to get out of the water.

Another thing silly baby chicks do is sleep atop their food. If they happen to be wet from a near drowning, they effectively get breaded in chick food. Chicken nuggets! Ready for the deep fryer. Yum. I learned quickly why chick feeders had covers with head sized holes in them. It's to keep chicks from breading themselves.....and pooping in their food, which is also something they do. If they cover their food in poop, they no longer can see it or find it. They will starve.

Chicks need warmth the first two months. If the heat source happens to die, the chicks will huddle to keep warm. The only problem is that they see nothing wrong with climbing atop adjacent chicks. In quick time, chicks on the bottom get suffocated. For some reason, the guys on bottom put very, very little effort in getting up. They just lay there and take it even if it means they can't breath. I've seen cases where older hens get trampled the same way. Instead of standing up, they just lay there being stood on.

Speaking of "just standing up", hens will get caught under a deep dish or basin and die. Yup. I've seen cases where a lightweight dish basin is used to hold chicken feed. When the pan is just about empty, a hen stepping on its side will cause it to flip over. Just like a box trap, flip-- caught one chicken! Now that hen will lay there forever. She doesn't try to move, walk, or stand up. The pan is plenty light enough for her to stand up, but she never tries. After a few hours the poor hen is wet from her own respiration, then dies of hypothermia. Many a chicken keeper has lost a hen this way.

When it comes to feeding chickens, there's lots of opportunity for entertainment. First, feeding birds tends to be soothing. I enjoy standing there watching the girls scratch and peck for the seeds I throw to them. But have you ever seen the chicken races? Just toss out a worm or a strip of meat. If the hens have never seen it before, they will all crowd around eyeing it for a while. Finally one hen will get brave and give it a tentative peck. Then all hell breaks loose! One grabs the treasure and RUNS. Instantly she is chased by a mob a hens hellbent on stealing the treasure. Snatch. Hen #2 now runs a different direction, the whole mob now chases her. Grab. #3 now has it and runs. By now whatever they have starts falling apart. Various lucky hens get bits and swallow them. In the end, seldom do the original 5-6 hens get a nibble. Now throw a second piece, and it starts all over again! This can go on for a dozen pieces. Occasionally you'll get a hen who figures out that its best to quickly swallow the worm or meat, but more often not. Next day repeat the process and the hens start out from square one again. Even those hens who quickly swallowed yesterday have seemingly forgotten the nifty trick by the next day. It's the chicken races all over again.   :)

Chickens are not above stealing food, nor are they above eating one another. Yes, cannabilistic. If a hen gets a sore spot somewhere, her sisters will promptly see her as a meal and start pecking. Before long the poor hen is eaten. You'd think she'd tried to fend them off. Get into a corner for protection or into a nestbox to get away. No on both ideas. She'll simply stand among the flock and proceed to be pecked to death. 

You'd think nestboxes would make good places to hide. Hens do use them for that, but not to hide for protection from their sisters. They hide to sleep and to lay eggs. One thing I've noticed about hens is that they tend to all want the same nestbox at the same time. Provide 20 boxes for 20 hens and you'll come out to find 3 hens crammed into one box with a fourth with her head inside while laying her egg outside. The box is small, supposedly the ideal size for one hen. But regardless of the size, always more than one hen will cram in. Literally cram. Side by side, one on top of they other, whatever it takes. I wouldn't mind but the behavior usually results in a cracked or broken eggs. By mid-morning it's not uncommon the have almost all the eggs laid in one nest. The other 19 nests are a wasted investment. 

1 comment:

  1. Haha! This was great fun to read as I can picture perfectly the birds chasing each other around for that perfect tidbit. Had to share on my farm facebook page. One suggestion: group nest boxes. Because, as you point out, they'll just all pile in anyway so may as well give them some room.