February 1st, 2009
When we received our day-old chicks in early October, we had fantasies of our four little Rhode Island Reds growing up to be loyal friends and great layers. By night, they would be secure in their chicken tractor and by day they would peacefully explore the nearby pasture with the sheep. We dreamed they would eat out of our hands, enjoy being held and fussed over, and beam at us with appreciation when we came to feed them and care for them.
There was just one thing, though. We were afraid to name them. What if they were too fragile? What if a hawk swooped down and scooped them up, one by one? What if they fell prey to the coyotes or even the huge heron who fishes at our pond every morning?
Herman is a big girl. Even though she’s a Rhode Island Red, she’s the kind of young lady who might play goalie in college field hockey, or perhaps be the pioneering female candidate for the high school football team.
Her sisters are more demure. They cluck contently while on their daily exploratory chores. But Herman clucks in a deep and masculine manner more evocative of the noises one might hear in a haunted house than a chicken coop.
Herman has recently taken to leading her more ladylike charges on hunts for new food sources. Refusing to stay in the nice big run-in shed, Herman has shown the other girls how to slip through the woven wire fence and enter the forbidden World of Sheep. In that strange and exotic world, the hens are exploring the wonders of alfalfa pellets and all the intriguing seeds and small grains nestled in the hay that we throw down for the sheep.
On the other side of the shed is the yummy compost heap. Herman has introduced her girls to orange peels, peanut shells and coffee grounds. Chicken feed is simply not that interesting once one has pecked at a cornucopia of composting comestibles.
Today Herman caught her first mouse. Granted, he was a small mouse and she only found him when our ram Firefly butted the chicken tractor in the hopes of finding uneaten chicken crumbles. Firefly butted and a tiny mouse ran out! Herman didn’t falter (although Firefly backed away). Herman grabbed the mouse and ran around the shed like an Olympian torch-bearer, head high. She jumped with joy as she ran, clucking loudly (and deeply) as she circled the shed.
We have heard that when there is no rooster around to keep the girls in line, one of the hens will inevitably assert herself in the same role. There has been no sign of this behavior yet. Herman is just showing her girls how to be all the hens they can be.