Saturday, 23 April 2011

Poultry in motion

Henry: a prince among roosters

Rose writes about ending up in the coop

Meet Henry, he’s the most beautiful gentleman rooster you are ever likely to meet. He’s the boss of our current coven of 6 mostly black ‘girls, Gladys, Desdemona, Henrietta, Hermione, Jezebel, and one un-named (because we were going to eat her but haven’t!)
We started 10 years ago with a rag tag bunch of chickens who were gifted to us (thanks Remi and Nichole) when we moved to the Wairarapa, and keeping chickens seemed de rigueur for the lifestyle we were leading. I fell in love with their wonderful language, behaviour and soft feathers. There is nothing like stroking feathers - soft, warm and strong. And I’m sure there is a book to be written on the meaning of chicken language, they are so expressive when communicating with each other.

We started with four and over the years have kept roosters (Russell Crow was the first) and their offspring, giving away a few, managing to decapitate and eat a few and all the while having a group of two-legged bug-eaters, egg-layers and fascinating entertainers. They had made themselves completely at home at our previous property, wandering the grounds and frequently popping into the neighbouring paddock when it suited them. They could always be relied upon to assist when we were digging holes or gardening with daring forays under the swing of a grubber or shovel for a revealed bug or worm.

The current bunch which numbered ten needed to be shifted, when the time came, from our home to the new block. We left this until the last minute, as I still needed to construct the hen house for them to shift into, having sold the old one to the new owners of our house. I had also promised four girls to stay behind.
The night came when we would move them. Some had taken to roosting in the large Totara tree in front of the house while we had been so busy shifting. We collected together boxes and lined them with pea straw. I had done a recce to see where the tree dwellers were roosting while it was still light and we returned in darkness to ‘chicken nap!’ The girls and Henry from the henhouse were easy. Chickens can’t see in the dark and tend to hunker down, so were easy to collect and box up - protesting all the while. The tree-dwellers were another story, but accomplished with little fuss, generally by me climbing a ladder to reach the branches they were perching on, while Al steadied it and shone the torch. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one hen who had moved from her location in the tree between my initial scout and the final collection!
We drove the packaged chickens back to the new, semi-completed house and installed them on their new perch under the cover of darkness - but there was still one in a tree!
We had left three behind in the original henhouse for the new owners and assumed the tree-dweller would be the fourth. The only problem was that they were all over-keen on roosting in trees at night, and needed to be re-trained in the way of the henhouse. This involves laying eggs and roosting in there at night, so they could be shut in and kept safe from cats and other predators. I’m not sure why they had chosen an arboreal lifestyle, maybe the house was too small for the numbers, or maybe the hen hierarchy, clear-cut to chickens but an eternal mystery to humans, had led them to alienate themselves.

The following morning, knowing that one girl needed to be moved from the tree to the hen-house I left in darkness. Just as dawn was breaking, I found her as high up as possible in the tree. Teetering on the top-most rung of the ladder in near darkness, while pulling down on a branch to reach her, I did wonder about the wisdom of such an action - picturing myself crumpled on the ground with an indignant chicken on my chest! Managing to lift her claws and having her sit on my hand while I descended the ladder, I realised that this was Jezebel (my favourite) and debated long and hard about leaving her behind. She really is the most beautiful girl, black with iridescent aubergine-edged feathers, dark legs and a lovely little face. I went back and forward to the hen house, put her on the perch, but in the end, just couldn’t do it - so chicken-napped her back to the new block on the promise that I would take one of the others to replace her later - yeah right!

So there you have it - one rooster and six girls, regular eggs and endless entertainment. Henry and his coven seem to have taken in their stride the endless changes of livestock which occasionally share their new paddock - and continue to wander about as if they own the place!

The author of this entry watches over her flock

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