How’s Pickins?

How’s Pickins?

Growing up in the suburbs, I was fascinated with the flocks of laying hens kept by my aunties who lived in the country.  Going out to the chicken house with a basket or bowl for the eggs was a privilege that never lost its charm.  Even now that I’ve had my own birds for many years, it’s still a bit of a treasure hunt to gather the fresh eggs each day.  But even beyond that benefit, there’s just something wonderful about having a flock of my own.

Presently, I have nine hens, one rooster, seven guineas, and one lone pigeon.  (The pigeon is another story altogether!) This particular group of chickens were gifted to me when my friend Dave D. was moving out-of-state and wanted them to have a good home. The barnyard birds love to patrol the lawn, hunting and pecking for tempting tidbits of bugs and greens.  It keeps them happy and healthy and cuts back on the feed bill to allow them this pleasure.  It also provides me with a sense of peace and well-being to see them out there, meandering about, scratching the surface with their feet now and then in search of something tasty.

In the spirit of tradition, the rooster is called “Rojo”, (that’s pronounced ro-ho), which is Spanish for “red”.  My Uncle R. had a rooster by that name.  Why the hens belonged to Aunt K and the rooster was said to be Uncle’s property, I haven’t yet figured out, but it may have had something to do with the original Rojo’s demeanor.  As in, he couldn’t have gotten much meaner.  (The rooster, not my uncle).  As kids, we were afraid of Rojo.  On our way out the back door, we’d grab either a broom, a bucket of water, or a poor unsuspecting cat, and if the ol’ buzzard–er, rooster–was nearby, one of us would deploy whatever item of self-defense we’d picked up by hurling it at him, whereupon we’d take off running before he could peck our feet or legs, both of which were usually bare all summer.  Sometimes this worked better than others.  I would swear that bird hid, barely beyond the corner of the house, just waiting for us to exit.  He never bothered Uncle, though.  Maybe he knew he couldn’t peck through the tough leather cowboy boots and blue jeans, and didn’t waste his efforts in the attempt.

By contrast, however, my own Rojo is neither vicious nor vindictive.  He will come a-runnin’ if one of his hens utters any kind of distress call, and he’s not what you might call a snuggler, but he’s gentle enough as roosters go.  I like to watch him navigate the yard with his “girls”.  I’ve fed them long enough that when I go outside, they all hurry to gather ’round me, just to see if I’ve brought them anything special from the house, which sorta makes me feel guilty when I don’t.  Which reminds me . . . I gotta go shred some cabbage.  It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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Guineas

Here’s what I know about Guineas, of which I have seven on the farm right now.

Plumage:  gray with white polka-dots, sometimes silver, or white

Head:        UGLY

Eggs:         smaller than chicken eggs, hard light brown shells with spots, tear-drop shaped

Voice:       loud and annoying

Tame:       not at all

Utility:      they eat ticks!

Need I say more?

Actually, these birds are pretty fascinating.  They fan out in a row like an organized search party and patrol the lawn, the orchard, and the pasture on their quest for bugs.  The very thought of swallowing any bug (let alone a TICK!) makes me gag, but guineas seems to thrive on them.  They will also eat grain, and share the chicken coop with Rojo the Rooster and his nine ladies, but tend to keep to themselves even while confined there together. I’ve seen them chase after a mouse who dared to enter in search of a free meal from the feeder, but won’t describe what happened when they caught it.  Believe me, it wasn’t pretty.

Guineas can fly, and will quickly take to the trees, or even the barn roof, if they feel threatened.  Mine tend to return inside the coop at twilight, where I am sure to shut and latch the flight pen door to keep predators at bay, but some people have told me that once their guineas were out, it was impossible to get ’em back inside.  Their heads look almost prehistoric, so I guess it’s no wonder they act thoroughly wild.

Every year about this time, however, I’ll witness this little dance between a pair of them.  On April 18, I was able to catch this video from my front porch, looking west into the corral.  About a week ago I started finding guinea eggs in the coop, and I’ve brought the incubator up from the basement.  I’ll keep you posted on what develops.  Here’s a link to a very short video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsTSjIdPp4