Thursday, June 26, 2014

Broody Hen and Predator Corn

Cotton's clutch is confiscated.
Lest you wonder if I traded in my hens for bees, fear not.  There are nine laying hens now, and they continue as entertainment and egg producers. Oreo remains the senior citizen of the group. Thelma and Louise, the two black australorps, are still bossy and glossy and think highly of themselves. Pip is next oldest. She remains one of our best layers, with nice big blue eggs regularly appearing in the nesting box. Nettie, Rosemary, and Hazel all came to the coop together, and are doing well. Our two youngest hens are Cecily, the little barred rock bantam, and Cotton, the cochin bantam that Oreo adopted and raised.

Cecily and Cotton will be going to the fair with L this year. Cecily is one of the sweetest hens we’ve had. She loves to be picked up and carried around. Cotton has gone broody. That means that all she wants to do is sit on all the eggs and raise chicks. She’s not laying, not eating, not happy unless she’s on the nest. I take the eggs away every evening and she complains and gives me a disgruntled look as I reach beneath her to steal the unfertilized eggs she’s keeping warm. She shoots lasers at me with her glare, but doesn’t peck at me. I feel bad taking her eggs and sometimes don't get all of them, which means that on some days, I have a big haul and a sad hen.

Trying to coax her out of the coop yesterday morning after taking all the eggs, I decided to take a special treat to the hens before I left for work. We had two leftover ears of roasted corn on the cob. They were still sheathed in crispy charred husks, so I stripped the husks back but didn’t pull them off completely. I tossed one toward the back of the run, not considering that with the husks flowering out behind the bare ear, they looked a bit like a big-tailed bird flying through the air.

From the reaction of the hens, they looked like big-tailed PREDATOR birds flying through the air. Clucks erupted. Feathers flew. Nine hens took to the air in a chaos of panicked chickens. Then they crowded together in the corner of the coop, looking bug-eyed at the scary thing that had just landed in their run. They love corn on the cob, so I thought they’d rush the two ears.

Pip was the bravest among them, and she approached the ears cautiously. She practically creeped toward them. “Corn,” I said. “It’s corn, you guys. Not a predator.” They did not spare me a glance as Pip proceeded on her dangerous, sacrificial mission.

Standing as far away from the ear as she could while still within pecking distance, Pip snatched at the corn, prepared to flee. When it didn’t do anything, she tried again. The other hens watched. She began to get closer, visibly relaxed, and began to peck quickly, using her solo time to eat as much corn as quickly as possible.

Eight other hens left their safe huddle and hurried over as if to say, “Oh, CORN. Well, why didn’t you say so?” And then they stripped each ear perfectly kernel-less. And Cotton went back to her empty nesting box and waited for other hens to provide her with a new clutch. 

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