Wednesday, May 30, 2012

a necessary evil

Well not evil, exactly.
Less than a week after we brought the chickens back to our ridge meadow farm after their winter "vacation" at Eli and Lovina's , Phoebie began to get out of the chicken yard by flying up to the top of the gate, landing there, and then coasting down to the opposite side of the fence.  This gate is higher than my head, by the way. She did this every day, sometimes more than once a day. We tried adding 6 inch nails to the top of the gate, attaching netting that would wave in the breeze, just interesting challenges to the hen who loves to get out and explore. Now Phoebie would always come to me from wherever she was in the gardens and follow along to the gate, sometimes getting there before me and waiting for me to open it so she could walk right in, talking to me nonstop in her unique vernacular. Silver Polish always rather agitated that he failed to contain one of his harem. laying the blame with me, and telling me what was on his mind ore rotundo.

Of course the idea of the chicken yard is to let our birds augment their organic feed with whatever they can find in the 60' X 60'  yard, to take safe shelter from the sun under the house, enjoying dust baths in the deep depressions they've dug out for themselves there, breezes caressing their little chicken heads. Safe by day from the neighbors dogs and cats. They can move in and out of their house at will and have food, water, nest boxes, and each other, (plus afternoon snacks every day, like dried mealworms, sunflower seeds or popcorn.) Out of their yard they are exposed. Also, our vegetable bed is just opposite their fence, and chickens can do pretty much damage to an active vegetable bed in a short time.
Then last week LadyHawk got out also, and she was NOT cooperative about going back to her yard no matter how I tempted her.
It was time for some action on my part.

You can learn just about anything by watching YouTube videos. I watched 5, including a vet teaching a chicken owner how to do the job and one chicken keeper whose IQ appeared to be lower than his birds'. How hard could it be, really?

Above you see an assortment of clipped flight feathers, Dovey giving them close scrutiny.

Here is Amelia showing you her flight feathers, It is just those long outer feathers that you cut just above the shorter, softer, thicker feathers closer to her shoulder. You cut 7 or 8 of these on one wing only, once a year. (They regrow them annually.) It seemed wrong somehow to clip the wing of a bird named for a famous female flier, but ...
I was ably assisted by Jerome. He had been here a few days working through our to do list. He held the hens one at a time close to his chest while I fanned out their wings and clipped. Less than 5 seconds per bird. Imagine cutting your hair or nails. That's what it feels like for the birds. They did not fuss one little bit. And Jerome was an excellent assistant.
Oh, and poor Phoebie did try to get over the gate again later that day. Can you imagine what she was thinking when she failed to get airborn??? I'm not sure but by the sound of her voice, there were some pretty colorful metaphors flying around that chicken yard.

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