Chicken-wise, the past couple of months have been a roller coaster here on the farm. I never would’ve expected so much from such goofy birds. But after the births and deaths, love, hate, and turmoil that came out of our coop recently, I have to say, I’ve grown rather fond of them all.
It began with the eggs. Our chickens have worked out a system where only one lays eggs at a time so the others can focus on other important tasks, like, I don’t know, walking around. This does not result in many eggs. What’s more, if the on-duty chicken decides to abandon the coop altogether, we have to search for the eggs, as if every day were Easter.
In the recent case, the egg chicken hid herself and her eggs in some leaf litter beneath a low-hanging palm frond. By the time we found her, we had no way to know how old the eggs were and so we let her keep them. Everyday we fed her there as she warmed her clutch of 10 or so. Through rain and wind, night and day, diligently she sat.
Then one day, she was gone. All that remained was a few unfertilized eggs, many broken shells, and three lifeless chicks. What happened, we could only speculate. Perhaps one of Namibia’s wild cats, maybe a civet. It was a sizable loss; a new generation of chicks and a dedicated mother. I realized how excited I had become to see those eggs hatch.
But on the way back to the house, movement in the old, abandoned chicken stall nearby caught my eye. There was our chicken with two yellow fluffballs running circles around her. Whatever had happened, she successfully defended two of her chicks and moved them to the shelter of the old stall. It was truly heart-warming to see and I was probably more excited than I should have been. We set them up with food and water and the stall became their new home.
A little later we got another new addition to the chicken herd. A friend needed to get rid of a rooster and thought of us. We figured we could use some new genes in the pool so we accepted it. But this was no ordinary rooster. It was the biggest, manliest, most spectacularly decorated rooster I had ever seen. He made our old roosters look like pansies which they did not appreciate. Retaliation ensued.
We had kept the new rooster separated from the flock for a few days to allow for acclimation. So he roamed the yard alone, standing pathetically in the rain to emphasize his solitude. Eventually, thinking all would be alright, we gave him a night with the others. But when the door to the coop was opened the next morning, new rooster came shooting out, in a barrage of squawks and feathers with one of the old roosters right on his heels. When the old caught up to the new, he leapt promptly onto his back and began pulling out more of his long, luxurious feathers. The new, big, strong, manly rooster responded by attempting to hide in a patch of aloes. I finally managed to break them up and the new rooster was again separated.
A farm worker advised that we should give the new guy a couple of his own ladies so that he could find a niche and regain his self-esteem. So the two youngest hens were moved in to his bachelor nook. One was indifferent, but one was in love. From then on, they’ve cruised the yard as the new couple, eating, drinking, and sleeping together. The old roosters still had their admirers and gave up their bullying. Peace returned to the coop. But not for long.
Mama chicken, still over in the old stall with her two chicks was found one night unable to stand up. I picked her up and tried stretching out her legs but it only upset her. Beyond that, one chick had disappeared. Again, we could only guess as to what happened, but it looked like a snake had come for one of her chicks and she was bitten while defending them once again. Not only did she lose the chick, but she lost her life as well. She died that night in a box in our kitchen, her last chick still nestled under her wing the next morning.
As orphaned animals tend to do on the farm, the chick moved in with us. She deserved whatever shot at life we could give her. In honor of our last bird visitor, Spicy Chicken the owl, she was named after another popular Namibian spice, and became Barbecue the chicken.
Understandably, Barbecue was not terribly fond of us at first. But being the trooper that she is, she came around. In a few days, she discovered she could get free rides on our shoulders. Shortly thereafter, she was eating with us, literally, straight from our plates.
Barbecue has now exchanged almost all of her baby fluff for feathers. She is quite independent, yet doesn’t like to be alone. Eventually, she’ll be big enough to join the tumultuous world of chickens. It won’t be easy, but assuming that she is the woman we think she is, one day not long from now, she’ll be a mom herself, a very fine one, and bring in a whole new crew of these bizarre and charming creatures.