Stable Configuration

We hatched six chicks earlier this year, two hens raised three each, about three weeks apart, which led to some logistical challenges. We like to keep the chicks in for a few weeks until they’ve got some decent, weather-proofing hard feathers and understand the idea of keeping up with mum – it makes them more cat-resistant. We only have one area for keeping the chicks and it turned out that the second hen, now renamed Psycho, is not inclined to share… but that’s another story.

A few months later…

The first three chicks have moved out of the kindergarten to sleep in the stables with the adult hens. Yes, I know it’s more common to keep horses in a stable, but we don’t have horses.

We were here first

What we do have is the second set of chicks deciding that it’s time to join the flock.

Not doing nuffin

The older trio did it in stages, hanging around the stables like a trio of juvenile delinquents, waiting for the older birds to go to bed. So far as we can tell, night-sight in chickens worsens quite rapidly as they get older, so the youngsters wait for the darkness-advantage before venturing in.

It’s important to remember (and I’ve mentioned this before in Second Best and Chickens In The Dark) that the main cause of screaming chickens is chicken-on-chicken violence. The whole pecking order thing is not a metaphor for chickens, it’s establishing superiority through force of impact.

The older youngsters took a week or more to move in, testing the violence quotient, working out where they might be allowed to hang out. As it happens, there is a pair of pillars made of stacked concrete blocks, previously the supports for a perch that needs repairing. The older three got themselves on the stack nearest the door and, over the space of a week, migrated to the one further in, almost but not quite members of the flock.

I thought that this was a perfect arrangement, leaving a whole pillar for the younger three. My perfect plan.

Wrong.

The next set of youngsters did the “hanging around” routine for a few days, retreating to the kindergarten (or greenhouse, as it’s known) by nightfall. Finally, they made that tiny leap towards flockhood, but rather than perch on top of the pillar, they hunkered down on the floor.

Idiots.

There are rats around, you know?

Fortunately, my night-sight is good enough to stalk young chickens in the semi-dark. I picked up the first one (cue desperate screaming, the monster got me, the monster got me, help, help, help …) and put it on top the pillar. Then I caught the next one, but as I placed it beside the first, the movement in the gloom and terrified shrieking (I’m dying I’m dying I’m dying…) panicked the first who jumped back down.

I repeated the cycle – catch a chicken, put on the pillar, catch another, lose the first. And again… until I got wise. I got one on the pillar and caught the other two together. Perfect. Except they screamed when I caught them (help, help, it’s the monster, save us, save us…) and the one on the pillar jumped down to find out what all the noise was about.

Idiot. The chicken, I mean, not me. After all that frantic business of run away, why on earth did it suddenly chose run towards?

So, I put the two birds on the perch and went to catch the third. By the time I returned to the pillar, one of the first two had jumped down.

Somehow, those undergraduate lectures on quantum mechanics suddenly make sense. Two electrons in the same orbit can be stable, but not a third, or something like that. It makes nearly as much sense as chickens.

However, forget the physics analogies – this time I practised a controlled placing of the bird I had, waiting for the screams (the big monster has caught me, I’m dying, I’m dying, run way, run away, run towards, oh, no no no no not that way…) to go silent and then advancing very slowly so as not to spook the chick already in place. There was a bad moment when the bird on the pillar thought about moving, but then the one I had just delivered made happy chirps (the monster didn’t kill me, didn’t kill me, didn’t… ooh… don’t I know you?)

Now that I had a system, I went and caught the third bird again and repeated the slow approach. The trouble is, chickens shuffle, trying to find a better position (ooh, hello again, can I cuddle up, if I just put one wing here…) but there’s only room for about four chicks that size on top of the pillar, so not a lot of shuffle space (Hello? Hello? Which way did you go?). Before I could ease number three into place, number one got nudged off. OK, maybe it was number two who fell. It’s hard to tell in the dark.

It’s like one of those puzzles with three holes and three small balls. With a lot of care and patience, you can get all three in at once. I didn’t have time for care and patience. I was racing the light, because at some point it would be so dark that my night-sight wouldn’t be up to it and if I turned the stable lights on, the little devils would see me coming – game-over.

Finally, I had all three, on a perch, shuffling done, cuddling up complete, quiet little chicks in a vaguely stable configuration. Perfect. Until the next night.

If you dispense feed from a weird container that a chicken has never seen before, it will instantly associate said weird container with food forever. Show three chicks a nice, safe perch and the amnesia sets in.

The second night, I left it a bit later and darker, just so they didn’t see it coming.

Four nights in, and it’s all fine. They’ve decided they hate the pillar and perch on the roof of one of the nest boxes.

I don’t care. The situation is stable enough.

12 thoughts on “Stable Configuration”

  1. Boy, did I smile reading this! We are also going through “Learn to perch, you idots!” right now, and I could SO identify with everything you said!
    Personal enjoyment aside, this was also well written. I think even people who don’t raise chickens could follow and visualize what you were describing. I loved the line about “Idiot. The chicken, I mean, not me.” Very entertaining!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – I’m glad it works. Years back, when we were building up to publishing my urban fantasies, my partner urged me to write a blog about writing. I found I couldn’t face it, and actually I generally avoid writing about writing. Instead I started putting together anecdotes relating to the chickens, sheep, cats and so on, starting with my daily conversation with a feral tom cat in the barn. I’ve pretty much managed to do one each month ever since.

      We have another round of learning to perch to look forward to as the hen we call Psycho has started sitting another clutch of eggs. We’ve had quite a bit of attrition amongst the older members of the flock in the last few months and it looks like only two of the six youngsters are hens, so egg supplies are going to get thin next year if we don’t hatch a few more.

      As for “idiot” – that’s become a bit of a buzzword around the house. In my urban fantasy ( a very different story) one of my demons is forever referring to its “host” as “idiot mortal” and my partner really likes that for some reason.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, “crazy chicken” is the more common moniker around here, although “stupid turkey” gets tossed around a lot (except you know the only thing dumber than turkeys is the person who raises them!).
    Lately I’ve been getting tired of the writing about writing theme myself. I think you’ve inspired me to go ahead and post a cat story I’ve been thinking about. Good look with both the writing and the farming!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chickens are an amazing source of trouble and destruction. I keep meaning to write about “chase the chicken” – a game played by chickens, geese, lambs… and then “chase the cat”, which is mostly played by chickens. 🙂

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      1. You could also add a villain ( Fox) to your stories!! There is one that’s been coming to my garden and knocks my statues of otters in to the pool. We set up a night vision camera that reacted to motion to discover the villain.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Foxes are a bit of a delicate topic here. Year before last we would see a beautiful dog fox running down our neighbour’s field towards the river. On the other hand, it was probably the same one that was killing one of our hens every week or so. We try to strike a balance so that we get to admire them from afar and never see them close to the house.
        We’ve had a trail camera running and know that at least one fox was coming through at around 4am during the winter. (Mostly what the camera shows is the procession of non-resident cats passing through!)

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      3. We got cats as well. I live in an urban area with near by forest area. All so got a neighbour with an overgrown garden and who knows what’s in there. Don’t think the other neighbours would like an early morning call from a cockerel if I started keeping chickens.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Our cockerel doesn’t start shouting in the morning much before 4:30am…
        Probably a bit later in winter.
        We don’t have such a problem with neighbours complaining about the noise – next door keep chickens, next door +1 used to keep chickens, next again have horses, and just up the road have sheep/dogs/free-range children. There’s also the distance between neighbours – we’re part of a cluster of five houses sitting on what’s probably at least fifty acres between us, and “next door” isn’t a simple concept here. Next +1 *up* the road is about 3/4 mile away. 🙂

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