Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In addition to everything else...chickens are afraid of the dark

Well things have been going along pretty smoothly.  The chickens are loving their new house and the ability to play outdoors all day.  The Spring weather has brought out tons of weeds...chickweed, dandelions, and clover.  Every time I feed them something that is a nuisanace in the yard and turn it into savings on the chicken feed bill I am truly thrilled.  I am thinking of introducing them to mugwort, a weed of incredible durability.  I have spent the last 2 days at the farm pulling it out of the blueberry and asparagus fields until my fingers are sore, so if I can get them to happily do that project that would be a true blessing to the farm.

Yesterday there was an event at the Bethpage Restoration and the farm was asked, in the spirit of greenness, to compost all the food waste.  So at 4 in the afternoon I found myself picking through buckets of leftovers bagels, wraps, and pb and j sandwiches looking for things a chicken might want to eat.  I settled on apples, some half eaten cores and others whole but flawed and unwanted, red pepper rounds (platter decoration I presume), coarse leafy greens (also decorative) and some red leaf lettuce.  I also dug up three bunches of clover growing outside the farm trailer.  Dan, the farmer, also gave me some aging cabbage from the storage cooler.  I went home and threw a bit of each into the chick yard and waited.

The clover they loved.  It turned immediately into a mob scene.  I have learned to spread food out so that they don't step all over each other (and the food) trying to get at the good stuff.  But I forgot.  Sometimes I am a slow learner too.  The red leaf lettuce they also went for...I think tender is their highest criteria.  The apple core and the pepper were totally ignored.  This morning I went out and picked some more peppers and apples out of the bin and brought them into the kitchen and diced them up...saute see if that would make them more interesting...somewhat, but not really.  So I picked a few more, went back to the kitchen and pulled out the cuisinart and finely chopped each food separately....a mash of peppers, a mash of apples and a mash of cabbage.  I then sprinkled them all around the play yard....and SUCCESS...they loved it all.  So now my care of the chicks includes using and then washing up the cuisinart...ugh.  A friend referred the other day to looking forward to eating the eggs of my "Pampered Poultry".  I thought that was cute.  Now life is immitating art.  They are truly pampered.  If you find me writing about cooking for them next week someone please come over here and smack some sense into me.  There has to be a line somewhere.  But I am happy they are eating more vegetables and food scraps and less purchased feed grains...they have to develop these tastes to be really useful at the farm.

Back to the scared chicken story....

So as the weather got warmer I started to turn the lights off in the coop during the day.  At night I would plug it back in.  About three days ago I decided that the nights were now warm enough to dispense with the lights at night as well.  For several days before that the chicks were all dutifully going into the coop at sunset so that when I came out just after 8:00 pm I would close the chick door, count heads (several times to be sure), and say goodnight to the girls.  But when I went out on Sunday night there were 6 or 7 birds at the top of the ramp.  Curious, I peeked inside and saw that the other 25 chicks had all bedded down in a heap just inside the coop door, effectively blocking the others from getting in.  Perhaps they had never gotten very far in, or perhaps as it got darker they kept edging closer to the waning natural light coming in through the door, but by the time I arrived they were all huddled together in the faint remnants of the daylight and the chicks at the door , who I would normally think would not hesitate to step on the heads of their fellow chicks if something they wanted were just beyond, were effectively stopped in their tracks.  So I went to the garage, plugged in the light, and in the 5 seconds it took me to return everyone was calmly marching into the coop and finding a comfy place to roost.  I of course was laughing hysterically once I understood what was going on and ran inside to share my amusement with Steve.

The next night I tried leaving the light off once again.  This time at 8pm I found about 20 birds filling the ramp to capacity.  Faced with the prospects of dark inside or dark outside the birds seemed paralyzed by indecision and were left huddling en masse on the ramp.  Again I went and plugged in the light and everyone dutifully marched inside.  So my thought is to buy a night light and see if that is enough light to get them to voluntarily go inside.  Yesterday I was busy and forgot to buy it so I simply turned on the light in the evening.  But next week the coop and chicks are moving to the farm where there is no electricity in the fields.  I am going out now to buy a night light...I hope I can find one that uses batteries...just in case.

Pile up at the coop ramp
These chicks just never fail to surprise much fun!


  1. Wow, those chickens are beautiful!

    A comment on their food choices - in Brazil I watched farm families feed their food scraps directly to chickens - ends of veggies, leftover dinner, whatever - and the chickens ate it all. Maybe as they get older they get less picky, but I really think they'll eat anything if that's what they are given.

    Just an idea, to save the cuisinart & your sanity...

    Enjoy your last weeks with them at home!