🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Learning from the chooks

I've learnt so much over the past few years from Solly's chickens. His chooks free range all over our plot and my garden and I've seen them lay eggs, hatch their babies and then watched as they grow up into teenagers and then fully integrate into the community. Of course I have my favourites, especially the abandoned or injured ones I rescue, nurse back to health and most of the time introduce them back into the flock.

Too many roosters!

Can't actually speak about a flock - they always seem to form several flocks. Many, too many, of the newly hatched chicks turn out to be roosters. And you know what happens when there are too many roosters! As teenagers they start squaring up to test their strength and then, as they come into adulthood, the serious fighting  for the available hens starts.

The hens watch, apparently unconcerned, from the side-lines, but one can't be fooled by their disinterest. Each fight is keenly watched and they have a keen eye for spotting the winner(s), who quickly claim their prize, with the chosen hens seamlessly falling into line with their chosen mates. Each rooster then has his own flock and they tend to group together and keep away from one another's territory. My heart always breaks for the losers, who end up all lonely, hanging around the perimeter, hoping for a hen to perhaps spot them. But beware them if they try to approach a specific flock's hen, she puts up one hell of a noise, alerting her rooster, who immediately puts an end to such daring cheekiness!

Soon after, the egg-laying starts, laying an egg a day until she feels she has enough to start a family and then serious business of sitting for plus/minus 21 days starts.

Mommy with her four newly-hatched babies

While the hen has her newly hatched chicks, she stays away from the flock, leading her chicks around, showing them them the territory and where all the very best tit-bits are to be found. During that time she even ignores her chosen rooster, solely concentrating on her babies and lovingly taking care of them.

But here comes the heart-break bit. When the little chicks are only a couple of weeks old, she starts showing an interest in the rooster again, with him leading her around, pointing out some lovely possible nesting places. She then totally abandons her babies (and they are FAR too young!), spending time with the rooster and even grabbing the little tit-bits I give them for herself, even pecking them and telling them to get out of the way. Then for days I have to listen to their pitiful little cheeps as they constantly call for her in their confusion, not understanding what is going on. Fortunately this unhappiness only lasts for two weeks or so and they soon learn to fend for themselves.

The four confused little chicks all on their own in the garden

 They would hang around the garden gate and as soon as I make an appearance, would follow me all over

Then, as soon as the hen is "free" from her chicks, it's a big happening in the community. Everybody will intently watch her choice of a new nest and when the first egg is laid, everybody, including the roosters, who stand watch over the event, will noisily cackle, crow and rejoice in the event, sending the little chicks scattering in fear from all the noise. And believe me, it's a racket!

One of the hens loudly voicing her discontent that her favourite nest is occupied by someone else

The intruder sits motionless, hoping nobody will spot her!

Choice of nest for any hen is another matter of contention. They all have a favourite nest and heaven forbid if anyone else dares to occupy it! Even though there are plenty of nests around, they will stand in line for that one nest, all the while trying to intimidate the occupier with insistent, loud cackling.

Another rooster standing watch as his hen searches for a perfect nesting spot

Solly's chickens are not to be confused with MY chickens living in my garden. They all originally came from Solly's stock, but never mix with their "wild" cousins, as part of my garden is walled and keeps Solly's crowd at bay. Just a bit on Solly - he is our general mechanic and handyman, living a couple of hundred meters away from the main house, where he has got his own little vegetable patch, flower garden and chicken coop, but for some reason, most of his chickens prefer to live in my back garden, nesting wherever they feel comfortable and following me around whenever I go into the back-yard. They seem to know that I know each of them and that each of them have got their own name. Or maybe it's just that they know that they are destined for the pot at Solly's place...


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