Sunday, April 11, 2010

The New Girls

Went to a "chicken swap" and got four new hens today-- seven-week-old pullets, two Rhode Island Reds and two Barred Rocks, all bright-eyed and fully feathered. The Reds are a deep, brownish red; the Rocks are black-and-white striped all over, and when their red combs grow out, they'll look like Parisian apaches. (We did not get the handsome pair of mated geese that I craved, or the handful of day-old baby ducks--all yellow down, with those adorable tiny duck beaks--that I came within inches of grabbing.)

There is nothing more charming than a seven-week-old pullet, with her big yellow feet and her tiny head and her Audrey Hepburn eyes. My little lot are clever and inquisitive. Even after the traumas of the morning--being transported inside a cardboard box by their old owner, and in a large dog crate deeply bedded with hay by us--they figured out the feeder and waterer we had set out for them right away. Despite the helpless-sounding peeping that they keep up, they already know a lot about being a chicken.

Why add to our existing flock of four? With hens, you have to think ahead. Our older hens are Buff Orpingtons, a heritage breed, which means that they aren't exactly egg-laying machines. They are now a year old, and due to molt in the fall, at which time they will stop laying for a while, and when they start again they will do so at a slower rate. (Besides, one of them may be turning into a rooster, as I explained here ). If all goes as planned, however, the new girls will come of age just as the days grow shorter, and will be in their laying prime in the depths of winter.

For now the new quartet are sequestered in the old goat room, separated from the older hens' quarters by a screen door so they can see and, most importantly, be seen by the Buffies. This way, when I release the pullets in a week or so, the Buffies won't kill them, which they would certainly have done if I had put them all together this morning. Chickens have a dark side, you know.

In other chicken developments, today we set up the portable fence, and released the Buffies into the lawn to gorge on the new grass and the newly-hatched bugs. Every year about this time the hens grow so desperate for fresh greens that they stick their heads out through the bottom holes of the fence to get at the lawn grass, and make a bare swath of earth the exact length of their necks all around their pen.

The sky was bright blue when we got the temporary fence set up, and the Buffies, finally released to their summer pasture, looked like golden balls on the bright green grass. In the shed, the pullets, having eaten and drunk, collapsed into a heap and fell asleep. A big tom turkey came out of the woods and ushered his dun-colored mate into the side field, as if he were taking her to a restaurant. And that made me think, should I get a rooster for my flock?

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