Monday, September 26, 2011

Grapes and Grasshoppers and Yogurt, Oh My

Violet. "What? Do I still have some yogurt on my beak?"
Gertie, right, wondering if Lacey would mind if she took care of that yogurt drip.
People tell me their chickens will eat anything. "Hang a cabbage up and watch them go crazy," said one friend. But my hens sort of peck at cabbages with half-hearted interest.

Grapes, however, can cause squawks and shrill "Mine! Mine!" clucks. Feathers fly when I toss out a handful of the round fruits. Blueberries are met with the same frenzied excitement.

Broccoli? Cockeyed disdain.

Tomatoes? Cornbread leftovers? Peaches? A feathered frenzy.

Lettuce? Disgruntled disappointment. "Oh, we thought you had food."

Yogurt? Messy, but good. They smack their beaks together, surface for air, wipe their beaks on the ground, then go back for more.

The other day I had several leftover lasagna noodles. I cut them into long narrow strips with a pair of scissors and took them out. Lacey picked the first one up, and before I could toss another out, they were all off to the races, chasing Lacey in a chorus of clucks, as she tried to flee with... well, she had no idea what it was, she just knew she had to keep it away from everyone else.

But, far eclipsing any kitchen treat I could bring them: grasshoppers. I tried very hard to get a photo of them hunting grasshoppers. But the hens move so quickly and unpredictably, and eat them so quickly, that all I get are photos of blurry feathers or fuzzy faces. They wait expectantly, a grasshopper appears, and they dart toward it. Then they stop, watch, run again. One of them catches the ill-fated creature and swallows it whole. It's like watching chickens playing tag.

Ick. To be honest, I have always had a grasshopper phobia. Those sticky, stem-like, hinged legs are Hitchcockian. The other day, I saw one on the tomatoes. I could not bring myself to touch it. Several days before, I'd tried to herd a grasshopper toward a chicken's attention as the grasshopper sprang hither and yon. That didn't work. It hopped right in front of Violet and she was so busy looking at me to see if I was holding something good that the grasshopper nearly bounced off of her and disappeared. She never saw it. So when I saw the grasshopper on the tomato, I grabbed the nearest chicken--Gertie, of course--and held her up to it, her yellow feet hanging down like landing gear.

She hung there in my hands, and cocked an eye at me as if to say, "Uh, OK." She didn't see it. I touched her beak to it. She didn't move, wondering why I'd picked her up and was holding her in the air sticking her head in a plant. And then, all the sudden, the light went on. Before I knew it she'd nabbed that crunchy leggy insect. I put her down and she ran off with it, happily gulping it down.

From an evolutionary standpoint, that probably wasn't fair to the grasshopper. He was camouflaged and hiding high on the plant as the rules of survival dictated. One didn't count on a hen hovering in the air four feet off the ground. Gertie, however, wasted no time on pondering the complexities of the food chain. She was off busily looking for another snack.

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