Picking up Chicks: Human Animal Relations on the Farm
Chicken society is rich with symbolism. As I get more creative in my interactions with chickens and their animal compatriots I discover more and more Easter Eggs. I believe I am the first to discover that chicks dig freestyle drumming. They become transfixed by the music when you drum on their bin. Afterwards they go back to normal.
Earlier in the season we were storing chicks in the bin above. We would joke about altering their entire world when we made any significant changes. We were moving their sun around when we moved the heating lamp, and moving their world when we moved their bin. We had to pick them up once in a while to get them used to humans. We failed miserably, and they are still afraid of us. Sadly, I was unable to pick up the chicks.
Joking aside, animals here are one part commodity, one part friend, another part food, while others are just pests. As I write this we are about to order 12 new ducks for the farm.
Jaime: I want to get some ducks (names the varieties, and how much each cost) Justin (the boss): Let me ask Rachel how she feels about ducks. Rachel, how do you feel about ducks? Rachel: I like ducks!
And so I will make a dozen new friends. Ducks are pretty cheap and run about $12 each. The ducks last year tasted very good, apparently. Yesterday I had to make straw bedding for our new shipment of chickens. I found myself wondering what it was like to be a chicken. I have discovered their “I just laid and egg” song as well as how they mate. I see the rooster strut around, and the chicks run all over the farm like children. I like to imagine that they are at school or on recess. they run out of the coop really fast in the morning. Sometimes the rooster has his own hen posse, to me the pen is a big playground. Shane tells me about the ever-renewed chicken hierarchy among males. It usually happens in a flash, but if you pay close attention you can see it. A rooster makes eye contact with another and the alpha male wins the staring contest, otherwise a fight breaks out.
Since, for now, our fence around the coop is permeable to chicks we let them run free during the day. They have flown at my tent in the morning. Probably to wake me up. However, when night time comes it’s our collective responsibility to get them back into the coop. If we leave them out at night they will be killed by predators. I have grown fond of the chickens, though I can’t tell how they feel about me. They seem to tolerate me when I go into their pen. I feel like an alien just checking up on chicken world. I think I know the sound of ‘food’. What do they do all day?
Here are a three stories I was told:Once, the farm had a collection of several roosters and no hens. They felt sorry for them since they would have no one to mate with. They discovered that the roosters loved the small pink soccer ball. When the roosters played, it looked like they were playing soccer. Upon closer inspection it appeared that the roosters were trying to mate with the ball. When they jumped on the ball to mate with it, it would evade their advances.
One day the turkeys strutted out like a gang into the front yard while Justin, Shane, and Satnam, the cat, were relaxing. Tensions started rising when the duck mafia came out of the moat. Then a big turtle came through the scene, not caring much. While the cat was getting stressed and the turkeys and ducks were in a standstill a small prison break of chickens came around the corner. Then some excited dogs arrived, which caused the ducks and turkeys to join forces against the allies. The parties were locked into a cold war. Thankfully, two toddlers came in and scattered the forces.
Rachel and Satnam went for a walk to a rock to see the sunset. They were joined by a dog. They were joined by the ducks, and then the turkeys. They watched the sunset on the rock together and left together.
I bought a cherry tree last week. I was surprised when I found out that it was being eaten by pests. The pear tree that I transplanted had a spider’s web on it. It was blocking the flight of insects towards my Juliet Cherry. I sat for a long time to find out who was eating my cherry tree. Ants.
We’ve come up with our own organic pesticide to tackle insects using rhubarb or soap. Our squashes have been demolished. Oddly enough, plants are not personified like animals. We do not protect the plants from the insects the same way we protect the chickens from predators. This might be because the focus of the organization is more on the engineering side than the agriculture side, if only slightly.
Squirrels and chipmunks are the scavengers of the kitchen. Since our kitchen is outdoors, a lot of our food is susceptible to their scheming. Jaime has launched a campaign of capture and release (far away) before, but they keep coming back. When they ate the group’s imported cashews they joked that the chipmunks thought to themselves “ooh, exotic.” Chipmunks are not hard to capture, but I still don’t feel great closing the lid on them. I am a bit more lenient with them than others. Here we are having fun after an earlier chase scene. He stole my bread!