Did you know that in some scientific tests chickens have outperformed cats … and dogs … and even toddlers in terms of cognition and behavioural sophistication? They have keen sensory abilities. They can see more colours than you and I. They can hear sounds that are inaudible to us. And they have language. Their movements and their vocalizations convey specific information and other chickens understand it. Not just ‘Danger!’ and ‘Food!’ signals. They can convey much more subtle information about things in their environment – even their mood. I love the sound of a group of purring hens.
What they cannot do – it seems – is thrive in a dusty or dirty environment. ‘Dirty’ as in containing a wealth of dirt flooring. Exactly where I had moved everyone – into two separate coops – when we were in lockdown this winter. But then they began to develop respiratory problems – dirt and dust in their nostrils – sneezing – dirt in their eyes … dirt in their food …
I had two small groups – each with one rooster. Roosters – oh man – let we write this here for future reference. I do not want to raise chicks again. I am too much of a softie to cull the inevitable roosters that will make up half the clutch we raise. I love the chicks. And I love the roosters! They just don’t much like each other once they grow up! And having ONE group of chickens – ONE coop – ONE large free range area is SO MUCH EASIER for this human who cares for them all.
So when I returned from a great family weekend and found Norman was ill and on his way out … I jumped at the chance to move both flocks together back into the Palace. The easy to clean – simplified – roomy Palace. That meant a crazy day taking the goat things out of there and moving them to the Cafe. While at the same time moving all the chicken things out of the Cafe and into the Palace. This involved a total cleaning of both spots – as well as close monitoring of the flocks as they came together. I started early that day – and dragged myself up to bed for ten o’clock. It was easy to fall asleep knowing all the hens were safe, dry and beginning the work of getting along.
The Orpingtons simply treated the move as though they were returning to their ‘summer cottage’. They are familiar with that space. They are familiar with the free range of the paddocks and the woods. They are even familiar with Paddy. The poor Brahmas, on the other hand, were exhausted! I tucked them into the end of the Palace for a rest all afternoon. None of the others could get into that area as they slept and mused over all the changes.
Meanwhile – at the other end of the exchange – there were two very happy goats reclaiming their hillside climber. The last time they were up there they were a tad shorter!
Seems the chickens even left them some tasty leaves for snack breaks. Moving these two back up to the fenced in hillside meant I needed to electrify the fence line that separates them from where the ducks hang out up there too. The hardest part of getting that set? HAVING TO TOUCH THE FENCE OURSELVES TO SEE IF IT WOULD ZAP US! We plugged it in and then laughed at ourselves trying to will our fingers to grasp the wire. When we then let the goats out into that space I was gratified to see Dottie give the fence a tap with her nose and back right off. May didn’t even try it – Dottie’s actions spoke volumes. We’ll see how that holds up. In past summers they learned quickly to respect the three lines of electric fencing in the back field. This fence is a mesh fence … many more wires and much less space to potentially squeeze through.
That is how we shut it down tonight. The goats are back in the Cafe. They seem quite happy with the space. The hens are sorting out the new pecking order and claiming their roosts. In another month or so we’ll introduce the Wellsummers to this flock as well. That will be another change in flock dynamics.
I’m listening to the rain – ready to call it a day. Even though I have worked myself to the bone this week I don’t think we ‘messed up’ in the winter. Seems life with farm creatures is a constant adaptation. Flock members change – seasons change – natural disasters and hazards roll by. In the end what I’ve learned – again – is that I am grateful for our variety of little barns and shelters. They are good structures – flexible – easy to adapt. When I find myself thinking ‘there … THAT is permanently fixed’ I’ll pinch myself and say ‘Ha! Joke’s on you! The only permanency here is CHANGE! ‘ 😉