How The Hen House Turns—Chicken Moxie

How the Hen House Turns
Chicken Moxie
By Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Last week I reviewed our experience building the Hen House. What amazed me then, and still resonates now, is how the birds adapted to our ideas.

They laid eggs in the nest boxes. They entered the House at dusk and sat on the roosts to sleep. They drank from water jugs (cut down gallon plastic jugs), re-supplied their gizzards with oyster shells to grind their food (LA tuff doesn’t provide good hard pebbles for grit.), and ate their lay pellets laced with cracked corn.

Over its 40 years of intermittent occupancy, the Hen House provided good shelter when it was properly insulated and ventilated and kept to a comfortable 42 degrees in winter with a safely installed oil heater.

However, looking back on those years, I realize how fragile most of our chickens were. Only Peeper the gamecock lived 11 years before he disappeared. We found him freeze-dried behind the roosts one spring. Overall, our chickens’ lives were much shorter than the geese and ducks.

The two English Call ducks (miniature Mallards) were 12 years old when we left Los Alamos last year. Turkey Two was 12 when she died quite suddenly one afternoon. Lucy goose was also 12 years old, but her life span could stretch to 30 years.

Chickens seem to have more trouble lasting more than a few years, even if they avoid hawk attacks. For a variety of reasons, they are more fragile, more susceptible to cold and damp. Their feathers get soggy in the rain. They seem to have more egg-laying problems than their fellow domestic birds.

The point here, as you embark on the new LA chicken ordinance, is to be alert to the chickens’ dilemma. Their delicate lives provide lessons for us all, as we contemplate why they cross roads or announce their laying of eggs. They also teach us to listen, for they will answer a friendly greeting with a quiet mr-r-r or bok bok. At times they will also initiate the conversation, which, I am convinced, comes from their appreciative and pleasant nature when treated well.

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