Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pecking above Her Weight

Victoria is a dedicated forager, even mid-moult.
As one hen holds out against the autumn moult, another takes it in her stride.

The Rhode Island Red has so far declined to experience this altered state. One by one the other five in the flock have succumbed and stopped laying, but Henemoa is unruffled. 

Her feathers, all intact, retain their lustre, and she continues to deliver her daily egg. For some weeks now, she’s been the sole provider.

To say that her colleague the Araucana has succumbed is perhaps misleading. Victoria has undergone the obvious physical changes of the moult but otherwise she is undiminished. This is perhaps a good thing, as she was already the smallest.

This Araucana may be small but she’s feisty,
pecking above her weight. Here she’s with the
recently refeathered Light Sussex, Emmeline.

She hasn’t chosen, or had imposed on her, the isolation that seems to go with this process of shedding and regrowing feathers. Nor has she lost her appetite, like the four hens before her. Most noticeably, her ferocity runs at full capacity: she still pecks above her weight.

While eating her standard-issue mash or pellets Victoria will sometimes tolerate the company of another bird (the New Hampshire Red, Amelia, in particular). But like Greta Garbo, she Wants To Be Alone. Feeding times at the beginning and end of the day are punctuated by the cries of those who came too close and were reprimanded as a result.

Outside these official feeding times, there’s often more food — enough to keep all the girls happy for hours. This afternoon, several piles of freshly pulled weeds did the trick. Such servings are what I call their “green salad”, as are piles of clippings from the newly shorn lawn. Today’s biggest treat, however, was some dead stems of cherry tomato from the glasshouse, their leaves long shrivelled and fallen but bright red berries still intact.

These plants had self-sown. Apart from harvesting them occasionally in the summer to add brightness and a certain zing to my own salads, I’d neglected them, even unto death. The chooks didn’t mind; they grabbed the fruit, sending juice into the air like blood spatter as their beaks snapped shut.

Victoria, shown here in 2010, is particularly fond
of grass. Alice the Australorp is in the foreground.

Victoria is less inclined to peck her fellow hens over fruit or foliage than when she guards her mash or pellets. This does not indicate a lack of interest on her part. I’ve read that Araucanas are born foragers; if so, then she’s true to type: she simply hoes in. 

Eating her greens (and today’s reds) is her vocation, whereas for the other hens, it’s a hobby. They’re no threat there’s no contest.

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