Friday, April 23, 2010

Piñatas for Chickens

Malucho has invented the piñata for chickens. All the chickens are cooped up right now, because the young chickens are living in the tractor in the garage/barn and the grown hens are awaiting their chicken run, towards which Kate has done some amazing work. The little coop has been inside the garage/barn since February when we brought the little chicks home.

When we first brought the Anarquist home, we figured she needed a little quite isolation time before springing her on the recently bereaved Sister Xikn. For one thing, she'd never been handled and was a Wild Thing. For another, she's less than half the size of Sister Xikn, so we worried a bit about bullying. So we moved the tractor into the barn and spread some bedding. 

Within the week, we had orchestrated several chicken soirees in the barn, which were promising, although by no means love fests. So, in the dark of night, Malucho and grabbed flashlights, gathered up the Anarquist and moved her into the big coop with Sister Xikn.

The next day, the young chicks moved into the tractor, where they'd have a little more room to run around (they had really liked that part of the soirees). They're nearly big enough now to move in with the big girls--they're almost the same size as the Anarchist--but we're going to give them a little more time, sort of like "hardening off" seedlings.

So the plan is to move the little coop out of the barn and into one of the two yards, and move the pullets (pre-pubescent hens) back into it. Then they'll get more sunshine and fresh air. The tractor will be freed up for the big girls, so they can also get more sunshine and fresh air. Sister Xikn is allowed out for foraging (under supervision), but the Anarchist is currently confined to quarters, as she poses a flight risk.

In fact, earlier this week the Anarchist managed an escape. I was replacing the piñata and the wind blew the coop door open and the next thing I knew, her black tail feathers were out of there. For about fifteen minutes I patiently closed in on her, trying to recapture her without freaking her out. Then I went to Plan B and brought Sister Xikn over to the Anarchist. This worked pretty well--not for capturing her, but the Anarchist sees Sister Xikn as top hen, and so she stayed near her, followed her in--and out--of interesting places. I actually felt a lot better that she wouldn't be nabbed by a cat if my eyes weren't on her every second. So then it was time for Plan C, which meant confessing to Malucho that I had allowed an escape. Zie came out to help me recapture the Anarquist. Zie is indeed the chicken-whisperer of the compound and after only a couple of circuits around the yard, zie managed to nab the little lady under the neighbz apricot tree.

So, back to the piñata: To keep the chickens amused while they're cooped up, Malucho unvented** the piñata: Tie a big branch of tree collards from the ceiling of the coop, so that it hangs down at or above hen's heads. They'll amuse themselves by jumping up to peck the greens. In that way, the greens don't become dead and trod upon (at which point the chickens will have nothing to do with them, even though they're the ones doing the treading). Yesterday I took the some beet greens and hung them up. They weren't very long and so didn't come down as low as the collards. While I was eyeballing them, trying to figure out if there was a way to hang them lower, Sister Xikn began leaping into the air to snatch even the littlest bite. She has never before expressed interest in beet greens, so obviously the piñata thing is working.

**unvented is a term from knitting, coined by Elizabeth Zimmermann to describe when you come up with a technique, knowing that someone has prob'ly come up with before, but it's new to you and pretty cool.


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