As I sit here, ‘they’ are outside. Feathery backsides up in the air, their lord and cockerel gazing at his reflection in the window, wondering just what that other male is doing staring at him and which one will be the first to move…
We have kept chickens for several years now. We had a nice little flock when we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia. Some were jungle fowls and some were Rhode Island Reds, who came from the local graveyard. They weren’t very good Islamic chickens as their favourite food in the whole world was bread soaked in pork fat.
The domestic hen itself orginated from the jungles of Asia and they have largely conquered the world. Don’t imagine that you are safe – they are here in their millions and revenge will be theirs one day, you wait and see.
Chickens are an awful lot smarter than people think they are. Ours used to lay just enough eggs for us all to eat and wonder if perhaps we should have been finding more in the nesting boxes. They’d deputise the two or three birds lowest in the pecking order to lay there, whilst the top ranking birds went off to lay in the ‘real’ nest, which would be hidden.
One day we found more than forty eggs hidden under a large fallen palm frond. Sneaky. That’s hens for you.
We had friends who experienced a similar thing, but their birds had practised their flying skills so that they could fly over the three metre wall into the next-door garden.
We did have a Sumatran jungle fowl who decided to try this. She spent days in training by flying across the swimming pool, but on her maiden excursion, she flew over the wall and ended up in the jaws of next door’s dog.
On arriving here in Galicia, we inherited Les’s chickens. He’d raised some himself, which meant that they hadn’t had their beaks blunted in the hatchery, which came in useful for spearing snails.
Amongst them was Henny Penny (see old blogs) and until we could build them a chicken coop, or casita, they were encouraged to roost (well, chased with a broom) into the outbuildings.
After a few days, they began to be reluctant to enter the spacious animal pens that had been there for a couple of hundred years.
They weren’t being daft – a mink was just waiting for them and it struck that night. Minks wait inside, kill the birds when they are asleep and eat them in that same spot.
So, what to do next?
Well, the room next to our kitchen, was free. It will be a utility room one day, but for now it is just a room to put stuff, so they moved in there, all twelve of them.
Within a few days, the three largest dominant hens were in charge. Our cat was cowed, chased and pecked as he ran for the safety of our bedroom.
The first thing the big ‘girls’ would do each morning, after eating a bit of breakfast, would be to climb the stair in the courtyard and parade up and down on top of the wall. Then they’d prepare for launch..
Across the lane that runs alongside our house, is a small cottage with a nice bit of garden and a drainage ditch in front. The ‘girls’ would be aiming for the garden, strutting up and down in anticipation of the great flight (all six metres of it). Then they’d take the great leap and without fail, each one would land straight in the ditch.
We were impressed with their courage. There was a much easier way to get out to the garden, but this was a matter of avian pride.
As happens with chickens, some get eaten by mink, some go off the lay and well, replacements are often needed.
Eagles take some – we lost a very good cockerel last year and three hens, with not a squawk to mark their taking.
Our friends, whose hens have been laying well for over five years, almost lost a hen to an eagle. As the bird rose, a cloud of magpies attacked it and it dropped the hen.
A last memory of those old birds in Jakarta, is the time that I noticed them stalking our cat, who was heading towards the back door from the back wall. She was wary and had good reason to be careful.
She’d almost made it to the terrace, when she noticed that the two dominant hens were stalking her. It reminded me of the movie ‘Jurassic Park’, heads up, alert, tracking her path and moving into pincer formation. She saw this too and ran for it.
Do not underestimate hens. They are watching and waiting and one day they may yet become velociraptors.
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