Sunday, 21 October 2012

Our Ex-Battery Hens

It is excruciatingly hot and dry this weekend.  I am sitting on the couch, watching tv, praying for a drop of rain...anything to break this unbearable dry, dessicating, heat.

I had planned a weekend outside in the garden frolicking with the ducks, and their new friends our three battery hens.  I had joyous visions while at work all week of lush, green grass, ducks giggling, chickens foraging.  Instead...... dry, dry, dry, baking heat.  The lawn is all but dust, the sky is impossible to see for smoke...(there must be fires nearby, back burning or grass fires of some sort.)  The sweat dries on your skin the minute your body squeezes it out!  As a result I whimped out, retired to the civilised temperature of our air conditioned lounge room, cringing as my weekend bliss melts rapidly in the 40 degree outdoor ambience.

Hiding in the frigid breeze, my lounge room is my sanctuary these last two days of 40 degree heat, so in an effort to feel productive, as promised I will introduce you to our new members of the flock. Last time you met our three fat, giggling,  white Musovy, they were laying every day.  Since we last spoke Cersei has become broody, feathering her nest, squeaking at whoever gets close.  I believe she is blaming the chickens for her missing eggs....still I feel guilty taking them from her, but they are so damn tasty.

Cersei is not overly fond of her new sisters.  She enjoys giving them a little chase around the coop.  Daenerys and Arya however seem rather indifferent.  You can't really blame them, the chickens look terrible.  They are lightweight, have clipped top beaks, and are missing an extreme amount of their feathers.  As I have spent the last few years dreaming of, and planning for chickens, I knew without a doubt that we would be getting ex-battery hens.  Years ago in high school my art teacher introduced us to Baraka ( a brilliant film about the savage and exquisite sides of human nature, it had many scenes of animal cruelty.  A lot of images to this day still bounce around my mind, such as the scenes of chickens having their beaks burnt off before being placed into the tiny cages that would be all they ever know of life.

I feel no need to preach at you, if you wish to learn more about the horror of caged egg production the internet is already full of such harrowing websites.  Needless to say after breif research when I was younger left me knowing that if and when I bought hens I would rescue some.  Selfishly I might add, to make myself feel better as a human being that has no doubt consumed many of the eggs the poor things suffer so much to give us.

With the coop finally built, and the decision made, I was extremely excited to find my new girls.  I contacted , they were very helpful, and we quickly donated to them in return for three birds.  The day we brought them home (3 weeks ago), I was very happy, and worried.  They were missing an awful lot of feathers, I was worried for them.

They spent the first afternoon hiding in the box I brought them home in.  We then had to teach them about their food and water   That night we realised they didn't know how to use their feet either.  They didn't know how to perch, as their entire lives were spent squatting in a cage.  We hadn't anticipated this, and built their perch and nesting boxes up high, above the ducks.    Not expecting they would not know how to balance, use their feet or even have the strength in their legs to climb.

As a result first thing every morning when B and I went out to collect eggs and feed the girls, I would give the chickens lessons in perching.  I would wrap their feet around the lowest rung on the ladder we made them.  They would wobble and fall straight off.  Mostly they would try to stand flat footed and fall, or close their feet up and try to stand on fists and fall off, all the while looking bewildered and confused.  Next I would move their legs up to the next rung, and close their toes around it.  My neighbours must think I am insane! 5.30am, in my Pajama's and gumboots teaching chickens to use a ladder!  After two weeks it started to pay off.  Most nights now they climb the ladder up to bed, every night we check on them, and if not we pick them up and put them to bed.

We didn't even name them for a week, unsure if they would actually live that long, but also because they were like little zombies.  They had NO personality at all. Just huddled together frightened by EVERYTHING, as it was all new to them.  After a week though, you could see the spark of life in their eyes.  We kept with the Game of thrones theme, calling them Brienne, Sansa and Catelyn.

Finally our little flock was complete.  On the weekends we let everyone out to run around the great big yard.  Today though was unbearingly hot,  I had to keep picking up limp chickens from the ground and point them at water, as they do not understand they are hot so they should drink.  The ducks on the other hand frolicked in their water tub with joy.

Although they are missing feathers, and their beak is clipped which makes it difficult for them to eat, they are learning mostly by watching the ducks.  Everyday they get a little braver, have a little more life to them.  Brienne is a little explorer, she needs to know about everything and every nook and cranny.  Cat we named purely for the fact she purrs all the time.  I didn't know before, but chickens make a trilling like noise when they are happy, and little Cat (Catelyn) purrs ALL day.  Sansa is the little one, she is finding it harder to adjust to her new world, her legs are not as long or as strong so she has more trouble with the ladder.  She is always losing the door, minutes after she goes through it she is struggling with the fence to get back into the coop.

Now though, three weeks later I can see their feathers are growing back, they have started to talk to each other and the ducks.  They eat ALL the time.  I am starting to relax and feel safer in the thought they will live and have spoilt and fun filled lives.  Now we have three ducks, and three chickens (Soon to be fully feathered)  Our fruit trees are loving it!



No comments: