Our hens get up soon after we do. Our front room is the current masalah of our “jamafia” and the brothers arrive closer to sunrise before going to work to pray in congregation. The curtains are tied back to let in the dawning light just as the chickens step single file out of their coop, clucking softly.
They root close to the house and listen while we pray. They also listen intently when Al-Fatiha and other surahs are recited to them slowly, clearly and with a melodious tone. Masha’Allah. They quiet down, focus with their head cocked, one eye staring, and afterwards respond with a ‘caw, caw, caw cooooo.’ Is that how you say, “Ameen” in chickenese?
Our bees, those who made their hive inside the wall of this house long before we moved here, also come out to begin their day. The truce between them and the chickens was made the very first day the chickens arrived. After each hen jabbed her head into the hive assuming they was easy pickings, the bees made it intensely and painfully clear they would not cooperate.
We live to eat (and occasionally to be eaten).
Overall, a chicken’s day is spent eating and looking for things to eat. If they’re not pecking at their seed, they’re digging, re-digging and digging some more through the dirt. Our yard was full of wild grasses and weeds, but in a matter of 2 months, all that remains is sandy, dry soil liberally sprinkled with chicken poop… during a wind, the soil churns and blows like an Oklahoma dust bowl. I imagine all the bugs are dead, but the chickens keep looking. They continuously dug up our compost pile snatching the scraps we toss. We now simply throw our leftovers on the ground anywhere. In 10 minutes, it’s gone. Our neighbors had to place boards against the fence to keep our hens from stealing their garden greens.
Muhammad delivers leftover salad fixings, cut up old fruit and veggies, and occasional cooked rice, every morning at 7am. The hens are already waiting at the gate, jockeying for position to get the choicest parts of this daily snack. Their main fare, however, is commercially bagged chicken food. We started out serving a small grain mash that was so fine it stuck to the sides of the food dispenser (hand crafted by Brother Ebraheem). Muhammad had to shake and turn the contents a couple of times a day in order for it to fall into the tray. Eventually, the neighborhood sparrows, 5-10 at a time, began helping themselves to the grains as well, flinging piles of mash onto the ground with their wings! At first, the chickens didn’t seem to care or notice until the food ran low. They’d then chase them off, running back and forth, only for the sparrows to, just like flies, wait until the chickens stopped running and return, only for the chase to begin again.
We’ve since bought bigger pellets of food (at a better price) figuring it would be too big for the swallows to bother with. For a few weeks we saw no sparrow, but they eventually came back.There’s less of them and they eat less than before. Fair enough. If the chickens no longer care, neither do we.
As the sun grew hotter and the days longer, some of the chickens scooped out 4-inch deep holes, wriggled their hind parts enough to fit comfortably down in the cool earth and proceeded to use their wings to throw dust on themselves. Between the ever present white and black chicken feces and the “ankle breaking” holes, we’ve learned to tread warily on their turf.
The world is a toilet
Long ago, an aunt told me chickens are ‘dirty.’ I believe she was referring to the fact that they do their business EVERYWHERE: on top of the food dispenser, in their food dispenser; on the plank to the coop, in the coop, on the roof of the coop; on top of our trashcan and on rocks they like to sit on; and all over the ground. Surprisingly, all that fertilizer doesn’t smell as bad as you’d expect (except if it gets wet when, with the smallest of breezes, everyone on the block is reminded chickens live nearby).
To keep it that way, Tuesday has become known as “Three D” (aka Doo Doo Day) when Muhammad and his cousins clean out the coop and deal with the poop ( a great “manly” job for our growing young men). They scrape the coop of feces and rake all the ‘matter’ from under the coop; put it with the rest in a pile to bury, or turn over the entire yard.
The chickens’ coop is a home made. It began as a play house my daughter-in-law made for her two daughters. After the girls outgrew the house and they all moved to their own home, Brother Ebraheem remodeled and renovated the inside and painted the outside; he affixed shutters to the windows and set it on stilts off the ground. He added a plank so the chickens had easy access. It’s cute. In fact, it looks a lot like the cottage/huts that people in the rural Philippines and other island nations live in.
Muhammad had to teach the hens how to use the plank. He pushed them up and through the square hatch one at a time. He also showed them how to operate the watering device (a pail full of water connected to a pipe that has little nozzles that release water by the drop when the hens touch it with their beaks.) By the second day they had made themselves at home and went about discovering their domain, bug hunting and establishing their social order.
Chicken Nuggets (observations, facts and a bit about eggs)
–Chickens are instinctually programmed to rise and set with the sun. We already noticed they awaken during fajr, and return to their coop as the sun sets, but one evening I found out how programmed they were! The latch to their door came loose and the door shut. The chickens had already tried to get inside and when they could not, began to settle on the plank and the roof of the coop. I could not get the door open and waited until my son came home. When Muhammad returned that night, he went out to open the door and the chickens would not wake up. He tried to prod and shake them, but they only lolled their heads and looked at him like zombies or on heroin, and fell right back out. He eventually had to throw all 18 in the coop and they stayed where they landed; on top of each other, limp and unconscious.
–Chickens clean their beaks. After eating, they’ll rub their beaks against rocks or wood, similar to how one cleans off a knife.
–Chickens fight like gang bangers (kind of). They hop up and down like a boxer and weave their heads back and forth and side to side simultaneously, cawing as if they’re daring the other hen to, “Come on!”
–Chickens will eat their own poop.
–Like most women, chickens prefer to lay their eggs undisturbed. Once while gathering the eggs, a hen was still roosting. She had her back to me, but suddenly turned and hissed repeatedly (SHUT THE DOOR!) when i opened the door to gather the eggs. I obliged.
–One blogger claims that raising hens only you may see some ‘lesbian behavior.’ She claims it seems to be a form of entertainment where one will mount another. I have not witnessed it personally, but I’m not all up in their business like that.
–Our white chickens lay white eggs, our brown/red chickens lay brown eggs, and our green legged (white) chicken lays green eggs. That makes sense in terms of melanin and genetics, but I never thought it would make a difference. Perhaps it does not. Are there red hens who lay white eggs and white hens who lay red eggs?
–Off flavor eggs may result from something the hen ate or from environmental odors. Hens that eat onions, garlic, fruit peelings, fish meal, and fish oil will lay eggs with an undesirable flavor. Eggs can also absorb odors that translate into unpleasant flavors if they’re stored near kerosene, carbolic acid, mold, must, fruits and vegetables.
–Two yolks in an egg appear when ovulation occurs too rapidly, or when one yolk somehow gets “lost” and is joined by the next yolk. Double yolkers may be by a new layer whose productive cycle is not yet well synchronized. Sometimes full grown hens lay two yolks as an inherited tendency.
–Sometimes, an egg contains more than two yolks. The greatest number of yolks found in one egg is NINE. Record breaking eggs are likely to be multiple yolkers. The Guinness Book of Records lists the world’s largest [chicken] egg (with a diameter of 9 inches/22.5 cm) as having five yolks and the heaviest egg (1 pound/0.45 kg) as having a double yolk and a double shell.
–Eggs with no yolks are called “dwarf,” “wind,” or, more commonly, “fart” eggs. Such an egg is most often a new hen’s first effort, produced before her laying mechanism is fully geared up. In a mature hen, a wind egg is unlikely, but can occur if a bit of reproductive tissue breaks away, stimulating the egg producing glands to treat it like a yolk and wrap it in albumen, membranes and a shell as it travels through the egg tube. You can tell this has occurred if, instead of a yolk, the egg contains a small particle of grayish tissue. In the old days, no yolkers were called “cock” eggs. Since they contained no yolk and therefore can’t hatch, our forebears believed they were laid by roosters.
–Every once in awhile an egg without a shell can be laid. It feels like a water balloon. This is another accident of the hen’s reproductive system and is not necessarily an indication of any problem. The membrane was placed on the yolk and white, but it somehow slipped past the “shell mechanism” and the shell wasn’t deposited.
–An egg within an egg, or a double shelled egg appears when an egg that is nearly ready to be laid reverses direction (sounds painful!) and gets a new layer of albumen covered by a second shell. Sometimes the reversed egg joins up with the next egg and the two are encased together within a new shell. Double shelled eggs are so rare that no one knows exactly why or how they happen.
–COOKING TIP: Did you know you can keep eggs up to 6 months? Crack the shell and gently whip them. Add a pinch of salt and freeze them in bags. Great for scrambled eggs!
What do you call a castrated rooster? (chicken vocabulary)
Chicken is of course the most generic name, meaning any bird of the species known as chicken, regardless of sex.
Chick is any baby chicken of either sex. Generally, only professionals can tell the sex of a chicken this early in its life.
Hen is an adult female chicken. The word hen usually implies that the chicken is also in the egg production part of her life (or beyond).
Pullet is a young female chicken that has just begun to lay eggs.
Rooster is an adult male chicken. Roosters are famous for crowing when the sun rises, and for being territorial (and sometimes aggressive).
Cockerel is a young male chicken. If left uncastrated, the cockerel will eventually grow into a rooster.
Capon is a male chicken that has been castrated. Castration may be performed to reduce the number of roosters in a flock, as capons tend to be less agressive than roosters. Some people prefer the meat of capons, as it is said to be milder and more tender than other types of chickens.