Just Grazing

Chickens Are Like Potato Chips

Chickens are like potato chips. Once you have a handful, you want another handful.

When we started keeping laying hens several years ago, we often used our spare time to simply watch them socialize, eat, forage, lay eggs and roost. As we added more animals and diversified our farm, the concept of “spare time” became as scarce as hen’s teeth.

We started with a dozen. Today we have 50-plus laying hens and enough experience, gained painfully sometimes, to deal with the ups and downs of the egg world.

We build our own coops and “chicken tractors,” and we are proof that you don’t have to be a carpenter to build one. Of course, we keep a first aid kit handy and we know where to get the best price on Band-Aids.

Although ours have not been selected for a feature in Architectural Digest, they don’t leak when it rains and they are warm enough when it is cold outside. Don’t ask how many mistakes we’ve made in the process, partly because the chickens were under foot at the time.

Chickens are smart and cagey. Try herding them and you create more pandemonium than recess on a school yard. If you’re trying to catch one, they play a barnyard version of the kids’ game “tag.” Cam Newton should have moves so quick.

But shake a can of food and stand back to watch the stampede.

Chicken psychology is fascinating. Sometimes there are squabbles in the flock. Who knows what starts them, but they usually don’t last long, settled with a few well-placed pecks.

Just as in life, there are bullies in the chicken yard. They can be especially tough on hens that have become weak or injured, often attacking them so frequently that we have to remove the weak one until she is strong enough to hold her own.

Like those people who drive to work every day and hope to get the same parking spot, hens stake out a favorite spot on the roosting poles in the chicken coop at night. Sometimes this causes disputes, as it might if you parked in someone’s spot. We have road rage. They have coop rage, with lots of loud squawking.

If you think cliques only happen at school or work, you’re wrong. Chickens form cliques. We’ve seen small groups of hens sticking together and avoiding other groups.

We’ve all known people who live on the wild side in life. Chickens have a few daredevils in the flock who escape the chicken yard and explore the farm. They are the bold ones who fly up onto the tractor, walk beneath the horses, explore a pickup truck’s engine when the hood is left up, and dare the cat to come near them.

They are the ones who leave an egg in unusual places because when the urge strikes, they lay.

Like the time one of our friends took their truck to a mechanic for repairs and he discovered a nest full of eggs on the truck’s frame beneath the bed. Now that’s egg mobility.

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