Time to check back in with the guineas, who are really, really starting to look like actual guineas and not just gawky chicks. The pearled patterning that gives this breed their name is showing up now on the feathers that grow longer by the minute. Now that they can hop and fly beyond the ceiling-less confines of their section of the coop, they’ve started taking ownership. I’ve read that the guineas will quickly claim their rightful spot as Coop Bosses, and got a glimpse of that last night as a couple of guineas chose the backs of some docile hens for a resting place. Despite our intentions to raise them to be tame and friendly, we’ve not handled them nearly enough to overcome their skittishness, which makes for an entertaining show when we enter the coop, as they hop, skip, jump, and fly the heck away from us. Overall, though, they’re doing very well, and we’ve only had one casualty, a guinea with a birth defect.
The “chicks”, however, are another story entirely. A sad and frustrating one, I’m afraid. In a fog of naivete and maybe a little bit of arrogance, we’ve suddenly found ourselves caricatured inside the pages of an age-old children’s tale. You, no doubt, know the story too – the cunning fox (or here it’s likely a racoon) outwits the farmers night after night and walks out with a delicious chicken dinner and a sneer on his lips. We’ve probably read three or four different adaptations of this story to Isadora already, but in each “retelling”, the chicken always manages to outfox the fox. A modern day, underdog twist, perhaps? Completely unrealistic, as it turns out.
We were first alerted to the situation a few nights ago. To prepare for our upcoming Transition The Broiler Chickens From The Orchard To Our Freezer operation (how’s that for a euphemism??), we separated one rooster and what we hoped were all the females (pullets) from the bunch and added them to the chicken coop to join the Lovely Ladies (laying hens) and Guineas. We tucked them all in for a good night’s sleep and tucked ourselves in. The next day was uneventful. The next night, when tucking them in and going through roll call, we thought one might be missing, but recounted several times and dismissed it as our error. The following morning, however, Andrew found a pile of white feathers near the door of the orchard coop.
Still, we thought it an isolated incident. Until late that night. The windows were open, catching the refreshing night breeze when a series of distressed shrieks jolted me out of my light sleep. What could that be? All the chickens were tucked in, safe and sound, I thought.
But the next day, I discovered our folly. The Villain in this story had crawled into the orchard coop through a chicken wire hole that was formerly filled by their heat lamp. At least three chickens had met their demise that night. Panic and shock and a little bit of helplessness shook me for a bit as I cleaned up, and only intensified when a quick walk around the orchard revealed multiple piles of feathers outside the perimeter. No doubt this critter was a regular customer. We were so stupid, in our own la-la land every night as our flock was systematically reduced, one by one.
The chicken learning curve is indeed a steep one, especially when we’re climbing so many other inclines at the same time. And I’d like to clarify that there has, indeed, been hours and hours and hours of reading (real, grown-up books, not the aforementioned children’s stories), thinking, talking, planning, and other responsible actions taken to go about our ever-evolving Chicken Project. Sometimes, though, there’s just no way to gain experience, knowledge, and wisdom without actually DOING. And sometimes, we can only do the best we can at the given time.
To close, I’d like to introduce you to Dapper Dan, our handsome rooster. We think he’s a Blue Andalusian, though there was a free rare chick added to our order, so it’s possible he’s something else entirely. If you have any ideas, let me know. What we do know is that he’s kind, mild mannered, a bit shy, and possesses a nice crowing voice. He’s the crown jewel of the coop and we have high hopes for his protective abilities as he matures a bit more. We hope he’s happy here.