Monday, March 28, 2011

One of the world's oldest professions

This drawing is from the 14th century -- more than 600 years ago. No one is sure when people started domesticating animals and plants. Scientists theorize that farming started as far back as 9,000 BC. It makes sense because people have to eat, and chickens generously provide an eggcellent, abundant, and versatile nourishment.

Keeping chickens reminds me that I'm connected to my food, the Earth, and to my ancestors who struggled to survive against much worse conditions than me in the space age with medical and dental care, antibiotics, electricity and a very good diet.

Some modern conveniences now threaten our health, such as too many antibiotics in our food chain, over-reliance on fossil fuels and driving, which leads to poorer health because our bodies do not get the physical exercise they need.

My small flock chickens remind me that I'm connected to my ancestors, some food I eat, the weather, natural instincts, predators in the animal kingdom, and eating and pooping -- which chickens do in abundance.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bullies in the Barnyard

I spent Saturday morning with my friend Ruth on her 5-acre farm looking for examples of the pecking order. She has at least 50 hens and four roosters. I give credit to wildlife photographers. They have to keep the camera running at all times because the action happens unexpectedly and it can't be scripted.

I was hoping for examples of roosters bullying hens, and I caught the goats bullying each other. It is very instinctive for animals and humans, unfortunately, to pick on the weakest. This goat has been sick and the other goats can sense that she is weaker.

Animal instinct, what animals teach us about bullying, the pecking order, and bully prevention and awareness are covered in my new presentation for students - "Rulers of The Roost: What animals teach us about getting along."

Take a look at this video.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cleaning the coop -- a dirty job but someone has to do it

Bob is dumping the delicious compost into the garden bed.

Bob moves compost from the bin to the wheelbarrow.

These fresh clean wood shavings shavings feel great.
A good cleaning of the coop was long overdue after the long snowy winter. The hens spilled a gallon of water and dampened the bedding about a month ago. It was so cold and snowy I didn't get around to cleaning it up until yesterday and felt guilty about it.

In addition to moving the old wet bedding filled with manure, I vacuumed the hardware cloth on the openings and swept away the cobwebs to keep the air clean. Hens are sensitive to their environment. They like it clean, dry and smelling sweet.

Last month, my son Ian's renovations to the coop layout and doors for humans and egg collecting reduced the moisture that tracks in. The coop stays dryer because I don't have to go in very often. Thank you farmer Ian. The hens thank you.

My next adjustment to the interior is to re-arrange the roost and create a droppings board underneath to minimize the cleaning. A young person told me at the beginning of my chicken journey, "Chickens are basically crapping machines." He was right! The manure does make for a hearty garden and local food right from my backyard.

Becoming a chicken keeper has required a huge learning curve. I'm continuing my egg-ducation by reading more about chicken care. The delicious eggs make it all worthwhile. Even cleaning the stinky coop.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The hanging cabbage to prevent bullying

One of my challenges as a backyard chicken keeper is a lack of background knowledge. I grew up in a city where we purchased eggs from the A & P. I never saw anyone or helped anyone care for chickens. This kind of innate knowledge is useful and lacking.

I'm in a foreign country where everything is new and the learning curve steep. However, I can learn from books, other chicken keepers and experience. While creating my school presentations on "Rules & Rulers of the Roost: What chickens teach us about getting along," I've checked out from the library a dozen books on chicken keeping, including many picture books for children, which are highly informative.

One of the books suggested hanging a cabbage for the birds to peck on instead of each other, because they might be bored. It's raining again here in Massachusetts. The books say that chickens lack a gland to oil their feathers to keep them dry, so they hate rain and snow because they're not protected from it.

The chickens are all cooped up -- with a new toy. The swinging cabbage. They refused to peck at it while I was standing there in the rain with my camera. That's okay. I like the picture just the way it is.

They're teaching me how to take care of them and prevent bullying, perhaps. I'm afraid bullying is part of their nature. You can see the red spot on the black sex-linked hen, Mooey, right behind the cabbage. Hopefully the cabbage will give her a respite. After less than 24 hours, the head of cabbage is more than half gone.