Hen Pecked

November 14, 2010

 

Most people who keep chickens around here only keep hens. There are a lot of problems with roosters. Not just the crowing in the middle of the night. They don’t live that long. They are vicious and jealous as well, When my wife and I affectionately pet our three hens (who are now all laying eggs), they all “assume the position”; that is, they squat down so the rooster (which they think we are) can mount them.

If we had a rooster and he observed us petting our chickens (which we do affectionately) he would be outraged and likely attack us in a fury. “That’s one of my harem you blankety-blank!” he would scream. An outraged rooster can do a lot of damage.

Lots of people around here keep chickens; most of us avoid having roosters. For various reasons lots of people hatch or purchase small chicks that turn out to be roosters. It’s hard to tell the difference. People also become very sentimental about their chickens; they don’t want to eat or cull the roosters.

I dropped off some stuff today at a local recycling center. They often have chickens wandering the center. Hmm…they all look kind of big; they look like roosters, I thought today.

I asked the manager, “Don’t you lose some of your chickens to predators, letting them wander around free like that? I have some chickens, but they are really safely caged in.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Those these have been around for a year or so; that’s pretty good. My hens at home are well protected, but I don’t worry about the roosters here at the center. People hate to kill their roosters, so they just drop them off here at the recycling center.” Her shrug eloquently said, Where they have to survive on their own.

So remember when you drop off a nice couch at your local thrift center; it better be able to take care of itself when the coyote, raccoons, and eagles come around and start scratching the furniture

Dear Random Granddaughter,

Grandma and I are looking forward to seeing you and Mama and Mommy this weekend. I hope you will bring the sketch of the chickens, Big Mama, Moll, and Little Peep, you drew. I hope that Big Mama will lay an egg for you as payment for the commission, but chickens are like cats; they don’t necessarily do what you tell them to do.

I have another commission for you, though this is a research project rather than an art work. It has to do with pets. When Grandma and I were married, we thought about getting a cat, but then we had a baby. We named the baby Random Daughter. Yes, the baby grew into your Mama. We thought both a baby and a cat need a lot of love and attention, so we decided to concentrate on just one at a time. When Mama was about two years old and still learning to talk, she had a babysitter named “Mrs. Nagy.” Mrs. Nagy was French and she had several cats. When the cats played with each other, Miranda thought they were fighting. When we brought her home from a day at the baby sitter, she said to us, “Kitty fight!” Those were some of the first words she said after “Momma” and “Daddy,” and “craggie.” (“Craggie” was how she said, “cracker” when she was first learning to talk.)

When Miranda was older, about 11 or 12 years old, I think, we were living in Portland. We still didn’t have a cat of our own, but a Siamese can who lived across the street came to visit us. There was a famous cartoon at the time about a cat looking like a meatloaf, so we called this cat “meatloaf.”
Mama always wanted a cat when she was a little girl, but because I am allergic to cats we never got one. When Mama and Mommy went to New York, they got two cats of their own: Tommy and Lulu. After Tommy and Lulu died, they got Sebastian and Sylvie. Sylvie is still alive, and may be the sweetest cat in the whole world.

When I was a little boy, we had many different cats. One was named “Twinkletoes.” At first she was kind of mean and scratched us a lot, but after she had kittens, she became much nicer. Later, we had a cat named “Fuzzy Wuzzy.” Fuzzy Wuzzy was not very brave. One day my mother saw a mouse in our compost pile. She brought Fuzzy Wuzzy down to the compost pile and said, “Catch the mouse, Fuzzy Wuzzy.” But Fuzzy Wuzzy saw something running and thought it might be dangerous, so he ran away. My mother was very angry. “Scaredy cat!” she said.

When Grandmother Christina was small her family had a dog, named “George,” and a cat, named “Perry.” She thought Perry was her special friend. When she felt sick and stayed home from school, Perry stayed in bed with her and comforted her.

Now we are wondering, what kinds of pets should we have? We have chickens. The chickens are a lot of fun, and they talk to us, and they lay eggs. On the other hand, they are not very cuddly, they don’t sit in our laps, and they don’t purr. Also, they are difficult to house train, but perhaps there is a special kind of litter box for chickens.

Both Grandma and I are somewhat allergic to cats, but we both like cats. There is a kind of cat called a “Siberian” cat which is supposed to be better for people who are allergic to cats. Should we get a Siberian cat?

It is rather dangerous for cats where we live. There are animals such as coyotes and raccoons that might eat a cat if we get it. There are birds such as eagles, owls, and hawks that might be dangerous for cats as well.

Perhaps we should think about getting a dog? We have some friends, Bill and Sherine, who have a big, brave fierce dog called an Akita dog. This kind of dog would probably be too strong and fierce for coyotes or raccoons to hurt it. Perhaps it could protect the chickens against any animal that would want to eat them. However, the dog would have to be convinced not to eat the chickens.

This is very complicated. Perhaps you have some ideas about what would be the best pets for grandparents to have. Perhaps we should just stick with our three chickens? What do you think?

Chipmunks are very cute. They are cuter than rats. Nobody considers rats cute, so nobody minds if we put out rat traps. Some people consider squirrels cute, but quite a few people spot them as rats with furry tails, so they are at some risk of being shot. Also, squirrels have a lot of attitude, and scold a lot.

My former hairdresser’s father-in-law was so irritated by a scolding squirrel that he grabbed a rifle and shot at a scolding squirrel in a tree just outside his house. unfortunately, he shot through a window he thought was open but he had forgotten the window was closed. Naturally, that was entirely the squirrel’s fault that his window was shattered, The squirrel even lived to scold another day. Perhaps it was a female squirrel, now that I think about it.

Not every land has chipmunks. As far as I know England and Australia have no chipmunks, though at least one pet store in Australia sells them as pets. Beware!

There are lots of chipmunks in America, and a few in Siberia, who wander south to lands like Japan and Korea, perhaps to escape the Siberian tigers and the snow leopards who probably think they make nice snacks, rather like the lynx David once observed.

Chipmunks are very cute, thus in great demand as cartoon characters. Chipmunks eat raspberries and blueberries and boysenberries, thus the Friendly Neighbors and the Randoms trap the chipmunks with rat traps. Once the trap is sprung, they are no longer cute. They are dead rodents.

A few days ago, Mrs. Random and I went into town on a few errands. In particular we needed to get a new land line telephone. Out ancient telephone was putting out a lot of static. The last time Random Daughter called she expressed a lot of concern about the static. I hope she realized that the static is coming from the phone and not from her dad.

Although we are now old fogies, Mrs. Random and I both own cell phones (mobile phones). However, mobile phones don’t work on our five acres. They don’t work because there are not enough cell phone towers on our part of the island. There are not enough cell phone towers because people who want to preserve nature would rather look at hills covered with fir trees than at cell phone towers. The cell phone companies build towers to look like hills, but the preservationistd are not happy with imitation hills.

Anyway, we needed a new land line telephone, so we found ourselves in a store owned by Radio Shack, a company I once worked for for a bit, part time. (You don’t want to know. However, we parted ways peacefully, not always the case in many of my jobs.)

While we were examining cheap wired land line phones, a woman in her fifties came into the store in some distress. It took a while to make sense of her ravings, but eventually we realized that she had seen a chipmunk in our truck. Puzzled, my wife and I followed her outside, where she pointed at a chipmunk’s head . Actually, it was under the truck with its head pointing out through the grill under the hood. Indeed it looked very cute. It was obvious to us that one of the many chipmunks on our property on our five acres in the woods had crawled up into the engine and hitched a ride into town.

One of the employees, an agreeable and helpful young man in his twenties, offered to catch the chipmunk and free it from the truck.

“No!” cried the woman in distress and indignation. “Don’t touch it or handle it any way!. It doesn’t live here!” Obviously, she was worried that the chipmunk could not survive in town.

It was clear that the woman was very sentimental about chipmunks. What she wanted us to do was drive back the five miles to our property so the chipmunk could safely dismount and return to its nest.

I politely thanked her for her concern and we went inside and bought a new phone (which seems to work fine).

I did not tell her that when we returned home we would set out a rat trap for the cute chipmunk. Actually, when we got home we examined the engine of our truck carefully using a flashlight. There was no sign of the chipmunk. I presume it had dismounted in town. I hope it followed the woman home. Obviously, they deserve each other.

The Friendly Neighbors are not home right now. They are traveling in Germany on a church tour visiting religious sites with fellow church members. They are very religious and kindly people and they do many good deeds on a daily basis. However, the Friendly Neighbor is 1/4 Sioux Indian. One of his ancestors was Crazy Horse, a famous Sious Warrior. This may account for his skill and fierceness in hunting creatures who consume his berries, such as bunnies, chipmunks and robins.

When the Friendly Neighbors return from their trip I will tell them story of the chipmunk and its ride to town under our truck and the concerned woman. I am fairly sure they will be as wickedly amused as I am by the entire incident.



Hello, my name is Random Granddaughter (you may call me “RG” for short) and I am here to present my grandparents’ three hens in this year’s County Fair “Chicken Olympics.” A few years ago, my grandparents attended a “Cat Olympics” at that year’s fair. My crazy Grandpa once asked me if my little cat Sylvie was doing what I told her to do, and I replied, “Kitty cats don’t do what you tell them to do.”

He said that showed I was very smart for a four year old girl to realize that. However, now he thinks his chickens will do what I tell them to do. That’s why I call him my “Crazy Grandpa.”

Anyway, Grandpa was not surprised when one of the cats went to sleep when it was asked to jump through a hoop.

OK, here are my grandparents’ chickens. First, I will present “Big Mama.” She lets me pick her up and pet her! She is a very smart chicken. Second she is eating lots of her very healthy well-balanced multi-grain chicken food. She is growing very big and strong and healthy.

Second I will present “Moll.” Moll is an excellent jumper. She will jump up on this table to get some oats. She thinks oats are like chicken candy.Moll has a lot of attitude. Little girl, sitting in the front row, please come up and hold out your hand to Moll. Look, she will peck you very hard! Little girl, you can stop crying now. How old are you? Four? Well, you should be a big girl now, and not cry so much just because a chicken pecked your finger. Well, maybe when you are six years old like me, you won’t be such a little crybaby.

Finally, I will present “Little Peep.” Little Peep is an introvert and does not like people looking at her. That is why she is hiding in the corner. Little Peep is also an omnivore. She especially likes meat. She is also an excellent hunter. She catches a lot of imaginary bugs. Look at her running around the stage pecking at imaginary bugs!

But I also brought her some real bugs. Perhaps some of the children in the audience would like to help me feed bugs to Little Peep. Here, hold out your hand, and I will put some “rolly pollies” in your hand. My grandpa says they’re called “sow bugs.” Now here are some ants. And here are some termites. Grandma gets very excited when she sees them around the house, so she is very happy when she sees Little Peep eating termites. And here is an earwig–Little Peep thinks they are especially good–look how she gobbles it up!

All the chickens like clover a lot also. Because they have been such good chickens, I am going to give them a bunch of clover leaves. Grandpa says to me, “Look how the chickens eat all these different foods, RG. You should stop being so fussy about your food and try a little of everything.”

Did I mention before that I consider him my Crazy Grandpa. I have five grandmas and four grandpas, but he is the only really crazy one.

Flavors of Empathy

August 10, 2010

Recently, Mama (our daughter) and Mommy (her out of law partner) celebrated their 18th sort of being married anniversary.

As we are the nearest grandparents (geographically speaking), we were invited to the celebration. We celebrated with lunch and dinner. At lunch, Mommy served vegetable frittatas. Random Granddaughter made faces. Mommy insisted she eat it. She ate it slowly, continuing to make faces, but eat it she did. RG is slowly joining the land of adult life, where we do things we don’t want to do, politely.

Mommy told me that my daughter had not passed her exam in graduate level statistics. (I checked with Mommy because I figured my daughter did not want to talk about it.) She has to retake the year of graduate work. However, there is another Masters degree program, with a slightly different name, she can probably complete if she does not succeed with the one she is in at present. My daughter is getting older, but I think she can still land on her feet.

RG has been taking piano lessons. Mommy, her birth mother, studied violin at Oberlin, with the intention of becoming a concert violinist, but decided to get a life instead of becoming a musician. RG, currently planning on becoming a painter, has decided to study violin instead of becoming a pianist. Undoubtedly, she will have many lives.

Mommy also told me that RG is having trouble developing consideration and empathy for the feelings of others. She described a visit from a friend which turned into arguments, door-slamming, and sulking in her room.

At dinner, the mommies served salmon. Food fusser RG likes salmon. However, half way through her meal, she began asking about the life cycle of salmon. Then she said, “It bothers me that we eat the salmon we catch as they return to lay their eggs.” Apparently, RG is developing empathy, but for fish instead of human beings.

However, when I told the story to Mrs. Friendly Neighbor, she said (as always an optimist and always a person who looks for the best in others) she said, “She is working on her priorities, and getting it all sorted out. She will get there.”

As we were talking about this, the Friendly Neighbors had a guest, Wayne, the team leader of the “wood ministry” from their church. Wayne is a former Marine and fairly expert on fire arms.

Wayne and Mrs. Friendly Neighbor discussed raccoons and their depredations on chickens. “We were driving by the beach and we saw FIVE raccoons,” she said in disgust. She and Wayne then discussed the best weapons and ammunition to use in shooting raccoons. Raccoons lack empathy for chickens. Mrs. Friendly Neighbor said, about chickens, “They are so curious, they will walk up to a raccoon, apparently to say, “Here I am. Eat me.” Mrs. Friendly Neighbor does not have much empathy for raccoons.

In some places and times, the world is divided up into paupers and aristocrats. RG, while not quite a pauper, is closer to the paupers than the artistocrats, but getting closer and closer to the aristocrats. As it is dangerous to talk about aristocrats where their  guards might hear, I will continue in email with some trivial and boring gossip about the aristocrats of her world and my world.

Pet Escalation

July 9, 2010

The Friendly Neighbors have an old cat, ducks, and quite a few chickens. Random Granddaughter and her mommies have Sylvie, the world’s most extroverted and adorable cat. After 44 years with no pets, Mrs. Random and I have three hens: Big Mama, Moll of the Bad attitude (who pecks our fingers frequently), and Little Peep, who is small,  spunky, and clucks to a different metronome than the rest of the flock.

I once complained about chickens not purring. However, they do have a sound that seems to fill a similar ecological niche: compelling humans to become their slaves. Every once in a while, our three hens will all freeze and make a little “chirring” sound. They all do it together; they all seem to be frozen (as if they are taking a little nap); and after a few minutes they will return to going about their business.

The other day, we heard them clucking in alarm. Looking up, I saw a large owl (I believe the variety is called “barred owl”) gazing speculatively at the chickens from a tall fir tree. It was watching the chickens intently. However, after a few minutes they stopped alarming.

Today, the owl landed on our bird feeder and later landed on our porch railing. Owls are probably mor e interested in chipmunks and squirrels than in birds. The chipmunks are pests who eat our strawberries and our peas. I will see if I can train the owl to eat a chipmunk out of my hand.

Not Ripe

July 9, 2010

Not Ripe

It is summer, it is hot, and the garden is beginning to bear fruit. We have pretty much finished picking the strawberries. The raspberries and boysenberries are beginning to show color. We are just starting to pick peas, and we have about finished picking the lettuce. We finished picking the spinach, which does not last very long before going to seed, a while back. We have six kinds of apples (on three trees), none of which are quite ripe yet, nor are the Italian prune plums.

One of the things about gardening is the acceptance that most of what we grow will get ripe when it is ready to be ripe. Picking it too early is likely to lead to an unpleasant taste and perhaps even an upset stomach.

The same thing is true of technology. Years ago, I worked for and with companies that were developing new technologies in both hardware and software. For example, I worked with some of the first laser printers to come on the market (produced by Apple and Adobe). I was working for a quick printing company and many of our customers wanted to save money by producing their own “camera-ready” copy. The first Apple LaserWriter did not work very well. The first software to prepare documents for preparing books and advertisements and brochures did not work well.

My jobs in the early days of the industry were low level and my skills were primitive. I worked with engineers and programmers who were much smarter and more sophisticated than I was. I remember all of us spending hours trying to get mediocre and not-ready technology to work. I remember spending hours with people selling us hyped technology that just would not work. For example, the first LaserWriter could not feed paper properly and maintain decent registration for color printing jobs. Pagemaker, the first desktop printing program, could not handle multi-page jobs or projects involving complex combinations of text and pictures.

Eventually, as the products matured and went through several versions, they began to work properly. I remember saying to my co-workers (for I was a gardener even then), “Technology is like fruit, it is going to get ripe on its own time. If we try to use a product before it is ripe, it is like trying to eat an apple before it is ripe. We will just make ourselves sick to our stomach.”

Although I was never very sophisticated about technology, for a while I could pretty much keep up with what was going on. Recently, I have let myself drift behind. When Mama (my daughter) and Mommy(her partner) switched their stereo to an iPod, we grumbled and said we were sticking with our old-fashioned stereo and CD-player and amplifier.

But much of what I listen to as I exercise on the treadmill at home or on the torture devices at the gym now comes as “podcasts.” My credit union, although an excellent organization overall, has become as addicted to gimmicks as banks, so they offer premiums for the use of their credit card. Painful experience has taught me that most of the premiums consist of fancy junk that does not work well, but I never learn.

Even though we only use our credit card where it is safer and more convenient than our debit card, and pay it off in full each month, I do accumulate “reward” points. I decided to spring on choosing an mp3 player. It’s essentially an iPod (as is Microsoft’s Zune), but a little cheaper. So far they have sent me two mp3 players. Neither works worth shit and I have sent both back and await the third, complaining loudly to a vice-president of the credit union who manages the gimmick program. I am a pain in the ass and I suspect he deserves me.

(My daughter’s iPod does work a little better, but I’ve hard her grumbling about having difficulties and problems with it.)

Once again, I find myself getting a stomach ache from technology that is not ripe.

Slaters

July 3, 2010

Just as the Garden Tour was finishing, the Barely Extended Family arrived. They had stopped at some of the other gardens on the way in, and at a playground for Random Granddaughter to have a break from adult pastimes.

After visiting the Friendly Neighbors Garden after it had closed they came over to our house. I feed the chickens sow bugs as a treat, but I had been warned that RG collects sow bugs in little houses, so I wasn’t sure if having her help me feed some to the chickens would be politically correct.

Gingerly, I mentioned, “I feed sow bugs to the chickens as a treat. Do you want to help me collect some for them?”

She looked at me with a blank look. Eventually I discovered she did not know the term, “Sow bug.” She calls them, “rolly pollies.” Once the linguistic difficulties were overcome, she enthusiastically helped me turn over rocks and put the rolly polly bugs into a plastic dish and feed them to the chickens.

I think RG’s position at the top of the food chain is safe, unless we discover grizzly bears living in our woods, or a great white shark living in the Friendly Neighbors’ duck pond.

http://soilbugs.massey.ac.nz/isopoda.php

In New Zealand, sow bugs are known as “slaters.” If Australia and New Zealand are at peace, they may use that term as well.

The Barely Extended Family came to visit for our island’s garden tour. Only the very elite gardens are featured on this tour, and competition to be chosen is very intense. The Friendly Neighbours, gardeners extraordinaire, were selected. (The competition is very intense, and beneath the surface of immense politeness, fairly passionate, and even downright nasty…)

Mrs. Random became a docent for the tour. I was chosen to help guide visitors on where to park their Mercedes, BMWs, or Lexi.

Tickets to the tour are fairly expensive, hence the high proportion of visitors driving luxury cars. All the money from the tickets goes to charities. The visitors get to slake the need for natural beauty in their lives, and ease their guilt at being well off in a world of immense suffering.

Mrs. Random is very shy and very introverted, so it was only natural that she be assigned to help guide people. I have been a teacher and learned to act like an extrovert, so to keep me away from victims trapped in the garden, I was assigned to parking.

 Parking at big events such as this–over a 1,000 people came on one Saturday, is amazingly complicated. If not handled well, one could film a movie full of car crashes, shoot outs, carjackings, and the like.

 While I could write a novel on the day, I will limit myself to a short sketch describing my taking advantage of the opportunity to do stand up comedy as I helped guide visitors to an appropriate parking spot. Many of the rich visitors are elderly. They are easily confused and do not want to walk a long distance. Some are handicapped, with mobility limited by hip replacements and the like.

 In the battle plan, using cones and crime scene tape, we laid out the private dirt road with one-way parking, facing out, to make escape easy. Six parkers spaced over a mile of road carried walkie-talkies and wore road worker vests. Typical helpful advice I provided:

 “I am going to have you turn around here and send you the other way. I will guide you so you don’t end up in the ditch while you are turning around.”

 “As a special bonus for visiting the garden, you will get some cardiovascular exercise. It’s good for your heart. To make that possible, drive down to the next parker.”

 A lot of pedestrians walked in the middle of the road in a fairly clueless manner. Naturally, I warned people as they drove on the narrow road, “If you can hit at least ten people as you drive to your parking spot, we will provide a 50% refund of your ticket price.” [Seriously, one of the parking guides did suffer a mild, glancing blow from one of the drivers, but was not injured.]

 My best effort was, “You will need to drive a long way. Then you will get to turn around and get closer. It looks worse than it is. Except, it is worse than it looks.”

The parkers working down the road reported the drivers had a very glazed, confused expression on their faces and obeyed instructions in an obedient, almost robotic manner.

Our three baby chickens, (now teenagers in chicken years) known collectively as “the juvenile delinquents” have received individual names, displayed individual personalities, and are now introduced to you. Perhaps this is their “coming out” party.

The smallest one is known as Little Peep. Although the others pick on her, she is fairly spunky. Mrs. Random, small and spunky, identifies with her. “She is very standoffish and doesn’t like me to pick her up,” says Mrs. Random, an introvert who likes to hide in the woods.

The punk of the bunch is Moll. Originally Moe, Mrs. Random did not regard that name as describing her attitude. We have been concerned that Moll is a rooster, but if so, she is a very small rooster. Moll is always trying to break out of their cage, either by pecking her way out through the cardboard that lines the indoor cage, or by flying out when Mrs. Random lifts the top to bring in food or water. Moll pecks the hands that fees her so sharply that I have taken to wearing gloves. Moll is turning into the Little Liu of the flock, frankly.

Big Mama is the largest of the group. Perhaps we will have to put a treadmill in the coop so she doesn’t get too fat. I am working on getting some pictures of the three hens, but frankly, once you have seen one picture of a teenage juvenile delinquent chicken, you probably have seen enough chicken pictures to last you for days.