Tuesday, July 1, 2014


And That's How He Earned His New Name: Houdini

WE'VE BEEN LUCKY WITH RAIN IN BIRDLAND. The whole yard is green and the cucurbit that sprouted volunteer where the old chicken coop was, has become a lush patch with leaves the size of platters and big, trumpeting orange flowers. It is vining out into the yard and green bulbous egg-sized fruits have set on. Maybe it's pumpkin, maybe squash. I can't wait to see. I did plant a pumpkin patch for my sister where the old compost pile was before we spread it out in the vegetable and flowerbeds. I planted both pie pumpkins and big ones for Jack-o-Lanterns. My sister wants to have a harvest festival in October, and we have to plan ahead. These seedlings are just emerging from their hills.

The Whole Yard Is Green
Last week I got an email from Mary in Bement who offered me a rooster. Now, as much as I love chickens, I have turned down many generous offers of roosters. A nicely balanced flock has one rooster for every dozen or so hens. Too many roosters will fight with each other and exhaust the hens. We already had 2, and everyone was getting along, but this one was a Lavender Orpington. If you have never seen one, you should look it up. They are grey with a rosy tint. Orpingtons are gentle by nature, and these are just lovely. I agreed to try to integrate Mary's rooster into my flock. We put him in a cage after she brought him over, just for the day. We would wait until after dark to introduce him to the coop. Sometimes chickens will accept a new member in the dark, and by morning forget that they were ever strangers. Well, the first thing that happened is that he got out of the cage. Ellis walked out to the car and saw the rooster in the crate by the garage. My youngest was going out on the town. He started driving away, but saw the empty cage in his rear-view mirror. He parked and came to tell me, and we were able to catch the rooster and put him back. After the flock returned to the coop for the night I snuck the new rooster into the coop. In the morning, I let everybody out but him, hoping a day in the coop would teach him that this is his new home, or at least that this is where he can find food and water. But by chicken-dark, he was gone again. Again we didn't know how he escaped. That's how he earned his new name: Houdini.
Integrating him into the flock didn't go well. With chickens you are always going to have pecking order issues. Mean Mr. Mustard, our old, one-eyed rooster is the big cheese, and he took issue with his new coop-mate, chasing him away when Houdini went near a hen. Houdini lost most of his tail feathers in the scuffle. To make matters worse, Ursula chased him, too. My dog learned long ago not to chase chickens, but who was this new bird of a different color and smell? Whenever Ursula saw Houdini, she would tear after him. The poor guy took to hiding under the cedar tree. My best efforts to stop the terror were fruitless. Finally I decided that Ursula wouldn't go outside unless she was on a leash. I thought I could train her to leave Houdini alone if I could immediately correct her. The problem was, Houdini was already so terrorized that he would head for the hills every time he saw Ursula coming, so we could never get close enough for me to correct the chasing behavior.

The Chicken Didn't Know This
That day Michael came home with a new idea. At work my husband had lamented about the chicken chasing behavior to a friend who had a solution. It was simple, but so silly, I didn't see how it could work. His friend had said, "Let Ursula smell the chicken's butt." The idea was that Ursula was just trying to check out this new member of the Birdland community by sniffing his butt. The chicken didn't know that, and would run away, thus a chase would ensue, and the problem just kept getting worse.
Sniff in Beauty: Foster Peace: Blessed Be.
I went out and easily caught Houdini. Michael was waiting inside with Ursula. It took about 3 seconds. I offered Houdini to the dog, butt out. Ursula sniffed. She sniffed again, and then walked away. I put Houdini down on the floor. He walked around cautiously. Ursula went into the other room to look for her ball. The crisis was over. It was anticlimactic. Now Ursula can go back to stealing sandwiches, and Houdini can go back to asserting himself into the flock.

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