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Monday, July 4, 2011

Happiness is a new nest

If you want to make a bunch of chickens happy, spread new hay on the floor of their chicken coop. Don’t just run in there and dump a load of hay in front of them, however, or some of them will have heart attacks and keel over. Speak in an even tone as you slowly enter the room, pitchfork of hay in hand. Then softly and gently spread the hay around the floor, taking care to cover the particularly wet spots around the water feeder. Chickens hate getting wet. But they can ruin a layer of hay in about a day with their manure so you will likely have to come back again tomorrow with another load.
The chickens’ propensity for heart attacks is just one reason why I prefer turkeys. Chickens also peck your feet and hands when you are trying to fill up their feeders. Turkeys just stand beside you as you fiddle with the strings on the feed bag and struggle to lift and pour the 40kg of feed into the metal column feeder. If you take an especially long time getting the bag open, the turkeys gather around your boots, looking up at you and warbling helpful advice.
I want to meet the person who invented the feedbag string system and I want to kick them in the shins. On thirty-degree days I am often found in a damp, smelly chicken coop, fussing with the strings that are supposed to easily release with a tug on the knot on the opposite side and opposite end of the feed bag label. The bags are double-stitched all the way down the seam so you can’t just take an exacto knife or pair of scissors to it. Anyway, it can be trying.
The turkeys also appreciate a clean, dry bed of hay, but they don’t go through it as quickly because they drink and eat at about one-tenth the speed of the chickens. They hardly eat or drink at all, actually, in comparison to the feathered beasts in the next pen. The only real complaint I have about the turkeys is that they like to sneak into the new chick pens to snuggle down under the heat lamp. I come in in the mornings to find the new chicks struggling to crawl out from under the bigger turkeys. So I took the turkeys out of the new chick pen and stretched chicken wire (aptly named) over the top of the pen. The next day I found the turkeys had been sitting on the wire, looking down and pooping on the little chicks below. So the Farmer moved the new chicks to their own pen in the lambing area. Now they are having a blast, running around and hiding in the corners of their vast space.
The Farmer used to keep his birds outside. He built them shelter from the elements and provided water in a long, low trough. I think the birds would enjoy being outside. My cats don’t seem to be intrigued by them at all and the sheep certainly wouldn’t bother them. The horse and donkey might be interested in the noise the birds make but if we fence off the area they should be safe.
The Farmer says he has to clip the wings of the birds so that they don’t try to fly away. And then we have to make sure they have everything they need, and that the area has been bird-proofed. When I first visited the farm in 2006, the birds loved to sit on the cedar rail fence. This was fine until the birds got to such a weight (turkeys in particular) that they would fall off the fence and break their necks. So we have to watch for hazards like that. But, as always, I think that a free-range animal is much happier and healthier than one that is kept in a room in the barn. And a Farmwife is much happier and healthier if she can get the darned feedbag open, which is now much easier since the Farmer pointed out that you open them from the zipline on the bottom.

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