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Is There a Coffee Table Book in Aunty Toby’s Future?

Chickens are the ‘gateway drug’ of livestock raising: People who have no experience with farming see them as cute, easy to care for, safe to be around, non-toxic and benign.

Heh – little do you know…

Yes, from a capital investment standpoint, they are probably the cheapest thing going; a coop or run can be cobbled together out of all sorts of left over stuff. If you live in a moderate enough environments, the amount of shelter that needs to be dealt with is small. They do start out cute – there is no doubt about that. Chicks are terminally cute..for about four days. In terms of ease to care for, well, the family cat can handle a situation with ‘left down food and water’ better, actually: Chickens don’t like dirty water or food. So you need to wash out and refill their waterers daily and if you are feeding supplements, then you need to make sure the feeder is clean also. In terms of safety, well, depending on the breed, the roosters can get pretty aggressive and in terms of height, a full grown rooster can be as big as a just walking toddler, so having the babies out with the chickens could be a traumatic experience.

The other thing and newbies are just amazed at this, is that chickens dig dust baths. Big, honkin’ roll-around wallows that they can get the whole of themselves into so that they can roll, wriggle, and flop around. They do this to help get rid of any insects (and they always have insects – it’s ok…no need to start running for the pesticide can). People don’t envision this because..well, people have not had ‘in the natural environment’ contact with chickens on a regular basis for about 50 years – chickens kept in cages or big coops don’t have access to floor space with deep enough bedding to dig themselves a foot bath..much less something they could actually get their whole bodies into.

So, as a public service, here is Aunt Toby’s Introduction to Chicken Excavation Behaviors, A Pictorial Atlas. These literally are this week’s projects from the Light Brahmas. Because we move them every day, I can tell you that they scratch things up pretty good on a daily basis, but major excavation work is done on an every-other day basis. It’s amazing – just like clockwork: “Oh, today is Thursday; we have to create a major earthwork today.” The holes don’t look particularly dusty – we had a lot of rain in the past 24 hours, but you’ll get the idea.

When the birds first got started scratching out holes, the holes themselves ranged in diameter from 3-6″ and perhaps 1-2″ deep. No great edifices here. No ambitious Pharoahanic (if such a word exists) stuff. But now:
Chickens obviously like, from time to time, to deal with the dust bathing in a communal manner, sort of like a Turkish Bath. One big honkin’ hole that multiple chickens can flop into. Since Aunt Toby’s chickens generally are very impatient birds (and seem these days to be more interested in ‘break out sessions’ more than anything else), this hole looks as if it could accommodate at least two hens simultaneously. The others will just have to take a number and wait their turns.

This example shows class ‘territorial’ bath building, the Classic 3-Holer Arrangement. On this day, I imagine that the birds just were NOT going to ‘take a number’ — and various hens decided to just muck it out by themselves.

This example shows what can be done by hens with creativity and ambition when the chicken ‘tractor’ has been left on uneven ground, throwing up great ridges between the baths, the socalled Contour Map Scheme. It would appear on this day, the birds were more interested in throwing up walls; perhaps there was a breakdown in political discourse that day.

And I’ve saved the most special for last, the Trans-Siberian Trenching Behavior. Built in the direction from Northwest to Southeast, these trenches are quite unique and indicate chickens focused on a mission. No distraction. No fighting for placement or authoritative position..just simple, concentrated cooperative digging. There are animal science specialists who feel that this is actually an indicator of advanced intelligence, that this trench is actually meant to enable the birds to worship the rising and setting of the sun. It is very difficult to ascertain the credibility of this theory as chickens do not have a written language(or digits capable of grasping writing instrument for that matter); however, it is an intriguing postulation. If we get up early enough and hide ourselves cleverly, perhaps we will be able catch them in one of their ancient ceremonies and be able to test this out.

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One Comment

  1. fuzzarelly says:

    My 7 chickens, mostly the hens, have dug several remarkable dust pits. They also are now free range, (as there is no way I can keep them captive now that they have seen Gay Paree,) and so they are turning my compost! What a labor saver.

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