Uncle Kelly was right.
It took six weeks for Floppy to realize she’ll never be a mom.
For 42 days we coaxed Floppy outside to eat/drink and move. The mere act of opening the back door was enough to send her into a panicked sprint, at least with Muhammad. When I tried, she’d bristle, hiss and refuse to budge. She called my bluff each time. I’d summon Muhammad who just couldn’t understand why I was having such a problem. “Mom, just smack her on the butt, push her out the nest, she’ll run. She’s afraid of everything!” Everything, except me.
Once Floppy was outside, we’d shut the door and windows for two hours. She’d eat very little and drink even less. She’d avoid the other hens and nervously pace up and down the ramp looking for a way back inside. As soon as we opened the coop door, she’d race back onto a nest and sit for the rest of the day. She stopped laying eggs too.
One morning, desperation bred ingenuity: After the two-hour recess, I went outside to open the coop to let Floppy back inside, and she was already there! I couldn’t figure out how she got inside; the hatch and windows were closed as we left them. It turns out she found a small separation underneath the coop between the chicken wire floor and the frame it was stapled to. She must’ve pulled at the wire to widen the gap and jumped inside. A few well-placed staples remedied the situation.
These days, Floppy is the first to leap out the coop and race to the front of the mob for the a.m. snack. She voraciously eats the regular feed too. Her comb is returning to its natural crimson color, and she lays an egg on occasion.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that she has traded places with Bantam Babe and is at the bottom of the pecking order. Her baby strike backfired and the other hens are far less accommodating than they were two months ago. I don’t know how chickens make their way back up the social ladder, but her sister hens are making her work for it.
And that’s not all. Floppy has begun to molt prematurely, shedding her old feathers for a new coat. Dozens of white feathers blow all over our and the neighbors’ yards. Molting normally occurs in the fall, but not before hens reach their first birthday, which is about 3-4 months away for our clutch. The process takes 3-5 months during which the reproductive system shuts down, meaning no eggs. Molting can also be initiated by stress and poor nutrition, which has been the entire life of this special needs hen. Given her new lowly status, some of the hens peck her feathers out too. The poor thing looks like a lawn mower ran over her head and neck. The bare quills stick out like a hedgehog, and the hot pink skin underneath looks scalded.
THE SHOW DOWN
One morning, I woke up in a top notch, A-1, funky mood. I didn’t want to be bothered with human beings much less hens. But, that wasn’t right. My mood was my problem and should not interfere with my duties.
So, I brought their bowl of rice, leftover kale and apple bits to the yard, said “as salaam alaikum ladies” and watched them bolt toward me to eat. Big Red was MIA in the chow line.
While the hens ate, I opened the coop to collect the eggs we forgot to collect the night before. Red was nesting. Usually, opening the door is the clue to get out the way, but not this time. Girlfriend sat there, glaring at me like she dared me to say anything. She hissed, bass clucked (they actually lower their voice) and raised her hind feathers.
Good grief, is Big Red going clucky too?
There are no other signs of broodiness so I doubt it. Nope, Big Red has always had attitude. This is Queen Cluck being her regular alpha hen, pain-in-the-butt self.
Thinking my voice would inspire her to move just a bit, I mumbled a “salaam,” and she promptly pecked me on the wrist!
My first thought was to do the usual: call my son to run her away for me, but it dawned on me how ridiculous it is to depend on my 14-year old to handle these birds. Plus, I was not in the mood. I gave her my stink eye.
She pecked me again.
I couldn’t believe this female–and a hen at that– was actually trying to start a fight! Did she not understand who owns whom? Did she not know that I am human (hear me roar)? Clarification was in order.
I tried a simple command: “Move, Big Red.”
She hissed in reply.
On my last nerve, I tried again, this time louder and with more force: “MOVE, Big Red!”
Big Red stopped hissing. She knew I meant what I said, but she had also witnessed me back down from Floppy. She stared, unimpressed.
I pushed her. She sat deeper in the nest and stared more intently, begging me to take it to the next phase.
Willing to give peace one more chance, I tried diplomacy: “I need to distribute the eggs today, so please move. Please.”
One eye cocked in my direction, she blazed subversion and a short cluck, “No.”
I prodded her harder.
She pushed her body back against my hand, “Hell. No.”
It was obvious I had to go there, get “hen” on her, establish myself as top dog, so to speak.
So, I shoved the plastic collection bowl in her face knocking her off balance and quickly gathered the five eggs she was sitting on. She stood up, flared her wings, and released a litany of screeches that, I’m sure, referred to my mother.
But I had the eggs and my first victory.
We’ve been feeding the hens way too much treat. Some are getting fat, which affects their egg laying ability. Combined with the cooler weather, which lessens production (and Floppy’s molting hiatus) our weekly quota of eggs has dropped from 8 to 6 dozen. Consequently, we’ve lessened their rations to half the usual amount of rice, greens and apples.
This was the first day of their diet and they devoured it before Big Red and my “discussion” ended.
As I triumphantly left the yard, all 17 (Big Red remained in the coop calling me out my name) followed at my heels, complaining. They gathered en masse waiting for more. As I closed the gate, they, in unison, blared a cacophony of duck-like exclamations as if to say, “Is that it? You have GOT to be kidding! Where’s the rest! We demand our fair share! MORE!”
Those daggum divas are going to have to adapt.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
During one of those addictive electromagnetic computer nights where everything and anything online catches your attention; and even when nothing no longer does, you keep looking, I thought it would be fun to google “chicken chronicles.”
I found a book, a movie and a blog.
The book: Alice Walker’s latest, released in 2011: The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, The Gladyses & Babe: A Memoir.
The movie: The Chicken Chronicles is a 1977 “raunchy teen comedy,” set in 1969 starring Steve Guttenburg who plays David Kessler, “a high school student who will go to any lengths to impress a pretty cheerleader, while juggling his job at a chicken joint and trying not to get thrown out of Beverly Hills High – a fate that could get him sent to Vietnam.”
The blog: Mad Chicken Lady’s adventure of raising fowl is also entitled, The Chicken Chronicles.
I plan to check them all out, well, all except the movie.
I grew up in the 70’s when raunchy teen comedies began. I’ve seen enough.
Asiila Imani is a doula/midwife middle aged mama of two mainly homeschooled boys. She is also my auntie:-)