There was a death in the family yesterday. One of the red layer hens died in the coop.
They do that. They go in the coop (not the nest box), hunch up, pull in their feet and their heads, close their eyes, and go to “sleep”- really a pre-death trance. Their combs go pale, and they depart slowly.
The whole transition seems very peaceful, and like death happens by degrees. You can look at them in the last hours, and they aren’t dead yet, but they aren’t all there either. They’re mostly dead (couldn’t resist).
Usually I find them stretched out, one leg extended, and head stuck out, like their last act is one last stretch.
Yesterday HW alerted me there was a “chicken emergency” in Bravo coop, and it was a chicken on her way out. She’s old. I got generic red layers on three occasions, when others were getting rid of them (this is a chicken rest home), so I can’t be sure what set she’s from, but she’s somewhere upwards of 6 years old. She was already sprawled, and she onlybriefly opened her eye when I pet her. We left her to finish her departure at peace in her home.
What was new, though, is that in the morning, other chickens were holding a wake. Five of them skipping breakfast to stand around her in the coop. I’ve never seen that before, but it’s possible I just missed the time of the ceremony. Cheeks flipped out once over a dead hen. Ravens are known to hold wakes or funerals – I’ve seen it. But not…chickens.
Not too long after I let all the birds loose into their fenced enclosure, I’m outside and I hear a godawful clamor go up from the guineas. Which isn’t by itself at all unusual. But I knew right away it meant one or more was out. OMG, we’re not TOGETHER!
Sure enough, there’s a lone guinea circling the fence, looking forlorn, and furtive, at the same time.I opened the fence, started chasing her/him around the GH to go back in.They never want my help though, and always go streaking off into the woods as soon as they get close to the opening welcoming them back in.
This one ended up pushing its way back in where the fence meets the GH, probably just like it got out. It seemed to remember.
The most accomplished flyers, the guineas are always able to escape the fence and mesh tent intended to protect them. I know they’ll at least return at night, and don’t worry about them. But they do make an unholy racket when separated.
I had a persistent little guest in the layer coop the other day. I was cleaning it out – bagging up the thick accumulated layer of hay and crap for relocation to the garden (my chicken mulch cycle), and along came Granny.
I lifted her out a couple of times, because she was definitely in the way, but she came right back in. She was determined to do something, but it wasn’t clear what. She just sort of dottered around, and I had to relocate her to work around her. I think she might be losing her vision.
Ahhhh. I stay here now.
Then, for more bizarre behavior, along came a Silkie rooster, who got all worked up scratching and wiggling down in the clean hay in a corner, gurgling and clucking for all the world like a hen that’s very pleased with finding an awesome place to lay an egg. He was just giddy with his burrowing. WTH? There’s hay all over to wriggle in. He was really excited about this corner, though.
I’ve put them in the greenhouse to run wild, since they outgrew the chickery in about a week.
They let me know they were ready to move up in the world by escaping from the chickery. How they did so was and remains a complete mystery, because the chickery is covered with a piece of nylon bird mesh tacked down on the four corners.
First, there was one bird walking around on the outside. Then there was two. Three. Then there were three perching on the top edge, all on the wrong side of the mesh, mesh still intact. Is mystery! Like Houdini.
Since this willy-nilly mystery escape is not safe for them – they do not seem as adept at getting back in, and they could get in trouble not being able to reach water or food.
So I set them free in the greenhouse. 864 square feet to play Wild Jungle Fowl in. When I first released them they were so funny, running with their necks stuck out, all of them chirping excitedly BurBURburBURburBURburBUR!
They travel in a dense little pack, like a school of fish, always tightly together.
They can fly too! They have big old wings already, and have taken confident flight off of my hand.
At night, I’ve been stowing them in with the broody hen I tried and failed to adopt them to. She’s boxed up, on her eggs, and at night I bring the guineas, drop them in the box and they snuggle up around her, or hide in the corner of her box under her butt.
Surrogate mom is surprisingly tolerant. The first couple days she growled at the evening introduction, but in a couple days, it turned to a (resigned?) greeting purr. The chicks would cheep anxiously about the trip in the box, she’d purr reassuringly, and in less than 20 seconds, silence had fallen.
In the morning she’s ready to get rid of them though. They are full of beans and sprint around the box shrieking, running laps that run right over her back. They perch on her back too, sometimes two at a time. She seems pleased to see them go then. She never moves off her eggs.
I was plucking birds out from her broody box one morning and one chick ran to her, thrust his head (only his head) under her wing, and froze. Can’t see me!
Since moving them into the greenhouse from the chickery, the chicks are harder to find at night.
The greenhouse is a multilevel jungle of tomatoes creeping across the top, and squashes growing in all directions. At night, they find a big squash leaf on the floor and all pile up under it, totally hidden.
Unlike chickens, they find a new place to sleep every night, so I have to poke around looking under the big umbrella leaves.
It’s like having ghosts in the greenhouse. When we go in there we might see them at work, but when they see us they all dart away. One was so busy picking bugs off the underside of a leaf it didn’t see the others depart and I got right up to it. EEEEEP! It shrieked and raced away.
If you stay in there longer, you’ll see them slowly work their way through a perimeter sweep, or hopping up to reach the kale leaves.
You’ll hear them cheeping around, but turn around and you might see a shadow scuttle by behind the tomatoes. They are so funny! Always in a little huddle. SO FAST! They streak around, their bodies stable and little orange legs ticking like a chihuahua, necks long and bright orange beaks stuck out.
When they get separated from the pack, even a little distance, they make a sound like a very small car alarm, and the pack shouts back a softer sound, until they’re reunited. I experimented with this. I was trying to teach them to go in the broody box by themselves at night, so I cut a door in it. Poked them all out through the door in the morning.
In the evening, but before it was dark enough for them to have settled down completely, I started to encourage them towards the box, or at least that end of the greenhouse. I grabbed a couple and put them in the box (happy cheeping). The rest did the car alarm sound, then stopped to listen. Cozy, subdued response cheeps. The outside chicks listened to where the others were, then set off at a run, and ran right past the box with the door in it.
Then they stopped, shrieked, listened, and sure they knew now where the others were, ran back the other direction, right past the door in the box. I caught a couple more and put them in the box (more happy cheeping). They go right to sleep cuddled up to the big cozy hen.
The back and forth car alarming, listening, and running past the box continued. They never got it. I had to catch each one and put them in the box. They didn’t figure out the door from the inside either. Although they failed this IQ test, in other ways they seem very clever. They are extremely difficult to catch.
HW has taken to calling them the Africans. To distinguish them from all the other chicks floating around. The teenagers, the smaller chicks, the new chicks, and the Africans. There’re several series running around right now.
In the morning they have a favorite spot on the Southeast corner of the greenhouse, and to get there they have to climb up the hay bales and the squash vines climbing up them, and they perch on the vines or cuddle up in a pile in the first sunbeam on top of the hay. They’re up there, at eye level, when you first come in the door, relaxed in their fort and returning the gaze.