As many of you have written to tell me, (keep the emails coming!), watching the chickens via the Hencam is a lot of fun. It connects some of you to a childhood spent on a farm; for others, toiling away in a cubicle with nary a window, it provide a view into a delightful outside world. Some Hencam addicts are college students who find the girls bizarre and amusing.
Believe it or not, ten years ago, when we first got chickens, my husband said, “you know, I could hook a Web cam up to the henhouse.” At the time, we didn’t have electricity to the barn and it would have been a huge and expensive project. Our new barn has electricity, but it was still a huge and expensive project — we installed very good cameras and linking it all to our server, etc. wasn’t easy. And then there was the Web design… But it’s all been worth it. Today I watched the indoor Web cam right when Blackie was trying to crowd Snowball out of a nesting box. It was a match between Stubborn vs. Immobile.
Mine is not the only hencam. At least a dozen other people around the world have had the same idea. Our set-ups differ, but the purpose remains the same — sheer fun. The best listing of hencams is on a German Web site. Go see!
Hens bred for commercial egg production care little for the eggs that they lay. About once a day they feel this need to settle into the nest. Within a few minutes, the hen lays her egg, clucks proudly and then quickly forgets about the event and goes outside to find something interesting to peck at. This is a good thing if you care about getting eggs from your hens. Most of our hens are very good layers.
But there’s always the exception. A hen that stops laying and sits on a clutch of eggs day in and day out is called “broody.” Some breeds, like Silkies, are known for being broody and good mothers (if only I was considered a good mom when I get broody!) Tweedledum, our Silkie, went broody this spring. She sat on the other hens’ eggs that in total weighed as much as her. Of course, without a rooster, the eggs were infertile. That didn’t seem to bother Tweedledum at all. After three weeks of staying indoors all day (except for the daily dust bath – never to be missed) she left the nesting box and no longer has any interest in the eggs.
Now Snowball is broody. The books give all sort of tips for how to get a hen to stop sitting and start laying. But since Snowball rarely lays an egg anyway, it doesn’t bother me that she’s unproductive. I am sympathetic to farmers who have to make a living. Snowball would have no place on a real farm. But she’ll always have a place here.
I love gardening – the scents, the feel of rich loam between fingers and the glorious colors. But there are a few things I don’t like and most of them have to do with bugs. Sure, dragonflies are lovely and who doesn’t like it when a ladybug is on one’s sleeve? But there are many annoying, painful and destructive bugs. Some of the worst are grubs. It is yucky (and yes, I carefully chose that word) to dig down into the veg bed and come up with vile squirming pasty-white grubs.
Chickens, on the other hand, long for grubs the way that I yearn for the chocolate that I recently had in France. Luckily for the chickens, grubs are easier to come by than those dark chocolate truffles. It is funny how their love of grubs has changed my gardening experience. Where once I would hastily drop the grubs into a jar to be disposed of later, now when I find a grub, I cheerfully call, “Who wants a bug?” The girls come running to the fence and I toss it to them. What ensues is a rather unruly scrimmage for the treat. The grubs make them so happy that I actually look forward to finding grubs. I even dig a little extra to look for them! Yesterday, planting leeks, I found only three grubs. The girls were disappointed. And so was I.
It rained for over a week. Drizzle. Steady downpours. Gusts of drenching torrents. Not a glimmer of sun. The chickens dislike getting wet. But they hate being crowded indoors even more. So they’d brave the rain, look around a bit and make a half-hearted attempt to scratch in the mud, and then head back into the henhouse, where they fluffed up and jockeyed for position on the perches and the nesting boxes.
We hung a cabbage for the girls, which kept them busy somewhat. It’s better for the hens to peck at a vegetable than at each other. They played cabbage tetherball. But they still weren’t happy. When I checked in on them, they clucked loudly and not with their normal cheerful tones. It was more like, “Well, do something. Get rid of this rain!” Surely, they thought, if I could bring them food then I could also change the weather. Luckily, chickens don’t hold grudges. This morning the sun finally came out. The chickens are busy outside and when I come to the gate of their pen they come running over, clucking with good cheer and asking me if I’ve found any bugs lately.
If you’ve been watching the hencam, then you might have seen a rabbit zip by. Candy lives in a hutch in the vegetable garden. In the spring and summer the hutch is kept in the shade to the side of the henhouse, so you can’t see it on the camera. But every day or so, we let her out for a “hop around.”
Candy, like many rabbits, has a wicked sense of humor. Our bunny, knowing full well that Lily the Dog can’t get into the garden, will put her nose right to the fence and taunt Lily until the poor pup is racing back and forth and barking. Candy teases the hens even worse than the dog. Her favorite trick is to wait until the girls are sprawled out sunbathing in the dirt, and then Candy races straight through the middle of them. The hens fly up, squawk, and flap about, like, well, like chickens. Candy kicks up her heels in delight.
The only hen that doesn’t put up with this nonsense is Snowball. She’s the littlest but she’s also the smartest. When Candy stops for a breather, Snowball will strut right up to her and peck Candy right on her twitchy nose. You can just about hear Snowball say, “Now behave yourself,” which Candy, of course, doesn’t.