Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ruffled Feathers

Mabel on her favorite perch.
There were a few ruffled feathers in the coop last night.

It was a warmish day--in the 40s--and K was taking advantage of the mild temperatures to add some insulation to the coop walls, between the studs. Then he covered the insulation batts with beadboard panels. This meant that he was in the coop, hammering and measuring.

This was not the usual routine, and it caused a flurry of chicken consternation.

The run door was open, so the Big Girls ran out into the yard, and Pearl and Mabel were exploring along with them for the first time. I watched Mabel bossily chase away some pigeons, making herself big and important. Then the neighbor's dog scared her and she ran for the coop. Two seconds later she reappeared, on the run, with Violet on her tail. Betty and Poppy were happy to just stay in the run and sun themselves, but Mabel and Pearl were busily dusting and scratching and pecking while trying to avoid the attention of the Big Girls.

I watched them for awhile, finding their busyness entertaining. Oreo, M's little Bantam, clearly needed to lay an egg. She was trying to hop up to the back of the coop where we used to leave the nesting box doors open. She squatted down a little as if gathering herself for the leap, then lost confidence, then readied herself to jump, then gave up. Those doors were closed and she fussed and hemmed and hawed back and forth, wanting to go in and use a nesting box, but unhappy that K was in there making noise and moving around in her coop. She finally seemed to give up trying to get in through the backdoor, and would rush into the run, only to reappear moments later in a huff.

I watched her do this several times, then went back to what I was doing. A little while later, K came in. "Had to take a break," he said. Oreo had finally lost patience with him. She'd tried to jump up in front of him--or on him--as if to say, "Can you see me now?!" He decided to let her lay her egg in peace, and she looked decidedly more content when I saw her wandering in the yard an hour or so later.

Toward dinnertime, as the light faded, I went out to close them all in for the night. K and L had gone over to see the horses. L is planning to show Butters in 4H this year, and wanted to work on showmanship practice, so they'd been gone a while.

I walked into the run, and all seven hens were milling around, confused. It was as if they didn't want to go into the coop, but their usual routine is to be in the coop, up on their roosts before dark. I thought that was odd, and stepped into the small space to see if there was something in there that shouldn't be. I didn't notice anything unusual, but the girls still weren't following me in.

They looked worried. No... not so much worried as annoyed and concerned. I looked in the coop again. And then I finally realized what the problem was. When K was putting the beadboard up, he had taken their roosts down. Not a single place for the girls to perch for the night.

I regarded them with understanding, but I wasn't sure how he'd put them up, or what his plans were, so I couldn't help them. "Sorry girls," I said. "He'll be home soon."

I couldn't convince them to go inside the coop, so I left them in the run, making sure to lock it. They seemed so vulnerable out there in the dark. But even though the coop would be safer, it was as if they were standing at the door to some other chickens' coop by mistake and couldn't figure out where theirs had gone. Their reaction reminded me of the premise for the book, "Who Moved My Cheese?"

K returned home about 15 minutes later, and I told him there were seven unhappy chickens waiting for him to put their house back in order. He quickly reassembled their roosts. There they were, like little old ladies with their hands on their hips and feet tapping as they waited. Fortunately, it didn't take long. With an air of relief, they hopped back into the coop, and on to their roosts, with their world back on its secure axis. 

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