Monday, July 12, 2010

The Giver of the Corn

Photo: SONDEL 2010, Flickr Creative Commons

We found out this weekend that the pair of wild geese who had been herding their gaggle of goslings back and forth between our pond and that of my aunt apparently ushered their entire brood into maturity. Back in the spring it was the two large parents hissing and hurrying their fuzzy little ones into the pines at the slightest sign of danger. Now, it's hard to tell which birds are the parents and which are less than a year old. It's probably an evolutionary advantage to mature quickly when your only form of self defense is the power of flight.

I'm pretty impressed. I'm down to one chicken, although the ducks have done okay by themselves, but then ducks sleep at water's edge with one eye open and slip into the water when things aren't going well. Chickens don't like the water. In fact, I'm pretty sure they'd drown if they tried to swim. At times I feel the urge to buy a few birds to keep my lonely Dominique hen some company and maybe help her to repopulate my flock, but between the plague of respiratory illness that wiped out most of my flock a couple of years ago and the foxes that finished off the rest, I'm a bit burned out as a pastoralist. Besides, I hate being home and animals are another anchor forcing me to plan ahead and feel guilty for being away.

This hen is a bitch, though, so maybe she deserves to be alone. Twice now I've found her clutch of eggs weeks after she had started laying them. By that point I had no way to know which eggs were fresh and which were probably rancid so dozens of eggs this year have gone to feed the dogs or were just tossed into the field next to my house. I've been searching almost daily for the new nest since the last clutch was tossed into the tall grass and I've yet to find a sign of a single egg. Of course that was the way it was the first two times. I don't find the spot until there are so many eggs that they start to spill over the edges of the shallow bowl she wallows into the sandy soil. She probably doesn't understand the principles of biology, so I guess I can't blame her for trying to protect her eggs so carefully, but there's not a rooster anywhere to help her give those eggs a viable genetic future.

If only I could convince those two geese to stick around and take care of my birds. If they can walk a brood of tiny goslings over a mile a day between ponds and fresh grass for grazing in an area full of red foxes and hawks and dogs that have never known a pen then I'm sure they could keep my chickens whole. The geese don't give a rat's ass about me though. I've never shown them anything other than respect for their space and they still flee at the first sight of me.

If only they knew that I am the provider of the corn. Maybe then things would change.


Julie said...

I don't think geese ar smart enough to get the don't-bite-the-hand-that-feeds rule. I had parakeets and they didn't get it. Survival instincts are an entirely different kind of smart.

My cousin has a chicken that's gone broody. She is trying to find fertilized eggs for her nest. They live in the city so she can't keep any males that hatch. If you like (and if the crazy scheme works) I can always se if she'd send a boy home with you. She likes knowing they're going to a good home.

Jacob said...

If she's really interested in getting fertilized eggs there are several places online to order fertilized eggs for hatching.

Have her look up some of the mail-order hatcheries. Some of them sell eggs as well. Also, another option would be for me to find someone selling fertilized eggs around here (there are usually some for sale in the local shopper paper) and bring them up. I'm heading that way this weekend.

Courtney said...

I don't know why, but "gone broody" is a funny phrase to me. I'm going to start describing pregnant women that way. "She's gone broody!"

Jacob said...

A broody hen is kind of funny. She's always fluffed up so she looks fat, she seems overly anxious and since the prep work for a chicken nest is exceedingly simple, they end up looking silly for blustering around doing mostly nothing.

Now, a hen with a recently hatched clutch is amazing. They're attentive, alert, protective, and devoted, drill masters for their chicks. I love watching a hen with chicks.

Also, I don't have as much trouble with using terms like "gone broody", but I always feel a little goofy talking about a hen "setting" as an intransitive verb. I know it's probably not technically correct (although sometimes I find out these things are correct and it's just that it's not used in urban life much anymore) because set is supposed to be what you do to thing and sit is intransitive, but to me, set in the context of a broody hen implies much more than just sitting. It's everything a hen does when incubating, the intention, the turns, the plucking your own chest bald to provide softness and warmth for the eggs.

Sid said...

Birds (chickens and geese) scare the shit out of me. Squirrels scare me. Insects scare me. And I studied all the environmental/natural science courses (botany, zoology, climatology etc) at university.

Mickey said...

I guess I don't really understand the biology of a chicken, either. I never considered the idea that a hen lays with or without a rooster.

So basically she's firing blanks. Cool.

Jacob said...

Comparing it to birth isn't right. You need to compare it to the menstrual cycle in mammals to get a better understanding of it (although that does make it grosser). A woman doesn't stop producing fertile eggs just because there are no men around. She keeps making them and when the egg has passed the point it can be fertilized, it's disposed of and another one comes in to take over. Same thing with the hen. She's making the eggs (although on something closer to a daily cycle) regardless of whether they get fertilized. If the fertilization doesn't happen, she can't just have the egg sitting there, so out it comes.