Thursday, October 4, 2007

Talk Amongst Yourselves.

Thursdays are devoted to animal husbandry and care topics.

I have been a bit under the weather, so I did not publish anything yesterday. Stay tuned for next Wednesday's installment on composting.

Now on to chickens. I think I really like these funky little two-leggeds. First of all, there's a whole lot more going on with them then one would suspect. They make over 50 different calls and sounds. Each one has a purpose. There is also a lot of nonverbal communication between birds.

Last week I mentioned that George the rooster spends much of his time looking for food and when he finds it he gives a low call to the hens. They come running to where he is standing and start pecking the ground. He stays there with them looking up and around his surroundings. He does not eat until the hens have had whatever they want and start to wander off.

Houdini Hen has a peculiar call when she is getting ready to leave the fence. It is a very loud one that she repeats as she walks the fence looking for an opening. It is as if she is telling everyone that she is attempting to leave. It is one note, no syllables. It is almost likea smoke alarm in it's frequency and intensity although not its pitch.

If I am near and the hens want something, like water or food, they crowd together repeatedly squawking. Actually, it's not just me, but anyone who walks into their general area looking like they carry a container of food or water.

The hens seem to pick out the red containers better than clear, green or blue containers. They also crowd the fence when I drive the car down the driveway toward the pen and slow down. I have on several occassions stopped the car to deliver water, feed or correct a problem in the pen. It is clear to me that the chickens associate both our vehicles with something they want.

Chicken management books stress talking or singing to your chickens and letting them know you are coming their way either by whistling, singing or calling to them. These would be those books discussing chickens more as backyard pets than commodities. But the chickens can see you coming, usually before you pay much attention to them. They will recognize what you are about and respond accordingly.

Two other things, I've noticed tounch on their eyesight. I have noticed that if I place their food passively and unobtrusively on the ground, it takes them a while to notice it. If I toss their pellets to the ground so they spread and bounce a bit, the chickens rush to them and start eating almost immediately. It appears that movement is key to their perception.

When I get ready to catch one or another of them, how they act depends on where they are. In the ten foot square pen, they will crouch down when I go to pick them up. In the larger more exposed grazing area which is 50 foot square, they will run away when I go to pick them up. Not so fast now as they did when I first put them in there. But they still run.

If you have chickens, hang out with them for a little while after you place their food. Once they settle down, you will notice all different kinds of "talking" between them. These various sounds can tell you what's going on with them even when you can't exactly see them.

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