Monday, February 20, 2006

Hole in the wall gang

I don't know what to do about the dirty dozen?

Or should I call them the wild bunch?

Or is that the Return of the native.

Anyway, its that dozen, more of less, chickens that have gone wild.

These aren’t to be confused with the occasional wayward hen that has found itself on the wrong side of the fence and while it might peck around in a flower bed or eat out of the dog bowl it really longs to return to the henhouse, with the other hens, at night.

No, what we have here, what we are talking about is a group of chickens who do not want anything to do with civilization (except, possibly, to sneak up on the dog bowl, when unguarded, and steal a stomach full of chow.

Or maybe run over to the fed box if I’ve been so careless as to drop some grain on the ground.

This gang, almost a dozen hens led by one wily rooster do not want anything to do with me, or the hen yard or anything what-so-ever with tame domesticity.

I can see them out there now. They are out in the far pasture eating at the winter rye.

One of the gang is casually making her way toward the dog bowl.

The rooster is over by the old Alice Chamers, looking in the direction of the house, as though he is keeping watch.

And that’s just what he is doing.

If I went downstairs and walked out the front door the rooster would stop doing whatever it is he was doing before.

And he would become all eyes.


On the look out.

And if I walked in his direction, or in the direction of one of the hens,

He will stand up erect.

And if I walked closer,

He will give out a call, something in a language completely foreign to humans.

But completely intelligible to chickens, especially to the rest of the wild bunch.

I know this is true because they all stop and look. Look at me approaching.

And if I continue, and walk closer, the rooster will let out another command (I assume it’s a command, maybe its really just a strong suggestion) and the hens will start to move. Away.

And when I keep on approaching there will be another command and suddenly, everyone is running.

Running in all different directions.

But running away form me.

Under the forsythia bushes.

Around the stone wall,

Under the shed.

They run down the length of the wall,

But mostly, running for the woods.

Down through the herb garden and deep into the briar patch on the far end.

To a place where they know. They know. that I can not easily follow.

Now, I know what you are saying.

“Why worry? Why bother? It is, after all, just a bunch of dumb chickens. A dozen dumb chickens. Let them go native. What harm are they causing?’

And my answer:

“That’s not the issue.”

The issue is, well, the issue is they are running loose on my farm, having escaped their status as farm animals and they are now, really, if you consider it, outlaws.

Sort of like the hole in the wall gang or is that Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

They live in the wild and make raids on our farm. Stealing grain, damaging our crops and all the time, all the time, I know that somewhere, out there in the woods are large nests just full of eggs, this time of year, frozen eggs, but still eggs that humans could be eating.

What am I to do?

(this morning, just several hours after I wrote the above thoughts, while I was looking out the bedroom window. Looking down the hill at the forest behind our house, I saw something in the brambles and briars just beyond the house. Something brown in the weeds. I looked closer and there it was, a nest. A nest with over a dozen eggs. I wonder how many other nests there are out there, just like that one).

Friday, February 17, 2006


I guess I have to do it.

I have to write about sex.

Since this is a family thing and all, I try to stay away from such subjects, or, at least, discuss it only very incidentally.

I mean, I know there are people who read these things to their children expecting cute stories about farm animals and smiling flowers.

But, you know, when you talk about flowers and farm animals, especially when you live out here on the farm, it’s hard to ignore that subject.

the subject of SEX!

And now that spring is just around the corner. Sex is starting to more and more define day-to-day bird life.

Especially for the peafowl! (and sex is never far from the pea brain of the peacock).

So, that said, if you’ve been out this way over the past month or two you might have noticed the birds new living arrangements.

We’ve separated the geese and the turkeys away from the chickens.

The chickens are still out in the field living in their chicken house on wheels (they are about to move, like snowbirds with a travel trailer, from their winter home in the Florida like field in front of the house to this season’s summer home, the relatively un-fertile and Wyoming like field over by the old family cemetery).

And while the chickens have been living in the fields, the turkeys and geese, they’ve spent the last several months in the urban flower beds and yard around our house.

There is a theory here.

Our lawn (and flower beds) have become overrun with various weeds, particularly that mint like creeping vine.

The one, if you have a yard, you will suspect has the ambition of dominating the entire world.

The creeping weed has become so entrenched in our yard that pulling it provides, at the most, temporary relief.

And so,

the theory


Let the geese and turkeys kill it.

Let them tramp on the grass, Let them rip up everything growing, let them eat, and eat and eat (and likewise fertilize and fertilize) until our yard is absolutely bare.

And then, this spring, we’ll move them (the geese and turkeys) up on the new asparagus bed.

And we’ll replant our yard with grass without weeds.

(the original idea with the geese was from some organic magazine that touted the idea of ‘weeder geese.’ The article alleged that if you put a flock of geese on a large asparagus bed they, the geese, would eat the weeds and leave the asparagus untouched.

And me, being the guilible sort, bought a dozen geese).

And since we’ve got off the main subject, temporarily, the originally idea with the turkeys was that people were going to come out and kill and pluck their very own Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my greatest idea.

When I offered this option in the newsletter last Thanksgiving there was only one taker. And while a shareholding couple (who will go unnamed to protect the innocent) came out and dispatched and plucked their Thanksgiving bird, Wenonah did not get into the holiday spirit.

Instead, she threatened never to speak to me ever again if I allowed one of her ‘pet’ turkeys to end up as a meal.

And that explains the ten pet turkeys in the front year.

And as chance would have it these ten turkeys (they originated on our farm as a dozen unsexed day-old birds mailed from a turkey breeder) and as chance would have it, seven of the ten remaining birds are male.

So, that brings us back to sex.

And if you mention sex and birds you need to start with the peacock.

As you might remember, last year, about the time we started putting our tomato plants in the ground, the peafowl couple that ran and flew around the farm decided that they really could eat a lot of vegetables.

So, about June they started eating prodigious amounts of baby broccoli and baby cabbage, baby cauliflower and anything else within tender and within reach.

And to protect our crops we were forced to herd the misbehaving couple into the far end of the greenhouse.

And leave them.

Only going back to replenish their feed and water bowls.

Until, late in the season, when we figured they couldn’t do our vegetables any more harm, we opened the greenhouse door

and set them free.

Only, instead of two peafowl, there were now four. Two males and two females.

And through the fall the new additions grew ever larger.

And in the fall the old peacock began to lose all of this dramatic, showy, male-ish, feathers.

Until he looked just as plain as the other peafowl.

And then the new year came and his feathers started growing again.

Until he had one of those magnificent peacock tails. (and about then the new young male, still looked bland and drab, disappeared. But more about that later)

And all day long the older male would spread his tail, showing those dozens and dozens of shivering eyes.

And on the other side, those reddish feathers around his tail would shake back and forth.

And around him would gather the turkeys and the geese (and the two hens that somehow have gotten mixed up with the big birds).

And the turkeys, the tom turkeys, seeing this male display would have to prove themselves too and so they, with their admittedly lessor show, would fluff up and strut back and forth, all seven together, pushing and shoving and in unison, gobbling, and then gobbling again.

And the geese (what is a male goose called? A gander?) since they don’t have the same sort of showy feathers as their other male yard mates, they’d have to exibit their maleness in other ways. So, to prove themselves, especially when there was company around, they’d started pushing and nipping and hissing at each other and barking with those very goose like barks.

And Wenonah, looking out our back door at the show said to me, just this afternoon: “I’ve seen this before, this sort of behavior.

“And its not just with birds”.

and I looked out the window and I had to admit. I think she’s right.

And, the other peacock? The young one, without the beautiful grown-up feathers?

He’s been gone for several weeks now. My suspicion is his father spoke to him in that special male language, telling him our farm is only big enough for one male, and the son realizing he couldn’t, yet, hold a candle to his showy father, went off in search of his own yard.

(and I expect any day now to get a phone call from one of the owners of the huge houses that have recently sprouted up on the very top of the mountain ridge to the city side of us, and the male voice on the phone is going to say in a voice that reminds me of the going ons in our yard:

“One of your animals has taken to living and making a mess on top of our new house. What are you going to do about it?”)