While the rest of us are grousing and hmmmphing and stomping our booted feet, there is one animal here at Little Pond Farm who is embracing this extreme winter. Why, she’s kicking up her heels in glee. Her attitude shows the rest of us how it can be done. For a moment, let’s see the snowy landscape from Phoebe’s perspective.
She is, literally, three feet higher than usual. It’s a new view. New views are good.
The snow is delicious. It’s good to have something novel to taste.
Tunnels are dug. It’s good to be industrious.
It’s especially good to be the Queen of the Mountain.
More snow is predicted for Sunday night. Phoebe can’t wait to see how high she can get.
When you look at a hen’s head, what do you notice? The eyes? The comb? That beak with the permanent downward disapproving scowl?
What we see impacts how we perceive the lives of our animals. We think that dolphins are happy because they look like they’re smiling – but their mouths are as fixed as hens’ beaks.
How we think that the animal relates to the world is done from our own prism of self-centeredness. A dog’s primary way of knowing what is going on is via smell. Because we don’t have that sense, we often misinterpret our pet’s behavior because we don’t take into account his complex world of odors.
Back to the hen’s face – what we fail to notice are her ears.
That flap of red skin, to the left of the wattle is Veronica’s ear. This is Agatha’s ear.
Chickens have excellent hearing. It’s about in our own range, but they are far speedier in processing the direction that sound comes from.
At twelve days into development, the chick inside of the egg is hearing. Some birds recognize their mother’s vocalizations before they hatch. Chickens recognize individuals, both in the flock, and in other species. I’ve no doubt that my hens know the difference between Lily’s barks and Scooter’s. They know my voice. Sounds matter. Lawn mowers. Hawk screams. The rattle of the grain bin. Think about that as you care for your flock. Yes, they’re confined, but their world extends farther than the fence that surrounds them.
There’s some anecdotal evidence that music makes them more productive. Or at least calmer. I think that it depends on the farmer as to which music they prefer! I don’t play music for my hens, but I am aware of how sounds affect them. I try not to slam doors, or shout. I do talk to the Girls. They hear me, of course. They don’t understand the words, but the tone matters.
I remember, when I was a very little girl, seeing the milkman deliver dairy products into a tin box in the carport. You can find those containers at flea markets. I have one. It’s in the guest bathroom. I could use it to store toilet paper.
But, for that, I use this vintage egg basket that long ago lost its handle.
Instead, I have repurposed the cooler for use as a trash can.
Do you remember the milkman? Do you have one of these coolers? What do you use it for?
This winter, I have much to learn from Scooter.
This past weekend, Steve and I took a much-needed break. We went to a favorite inn in Vermont, and shopped at the King Arthur Flour Store, at three indie bookstores, and at two horse tack shops. I came away with excellent chocolate, a fascinating book (I love nonfiction about science that I know nothing about, written in an engaging and witty way), and a new muck tub (some women like handbags, some of us like barn tools!) I also got a bale of straw.
The weather on Sunday was a welcome change from the bitter cold and snow that we’ve been having. It was 38° F! So warm that I saw people shoveling in tee-shirts. But, the forecast was for the arctic blast to arrive in full force that night. Puddles on the ground would become sheet ice. As I expected, the path from my backdoor to the coops looked like this when we returned home on Sunday night. Smooth, hard and dangerous. Too bad I don’t do the winter olympic sport of luge.
I can’t put down sand or ice melt because it would ruin the lawn underneath. The straw, though, provides traction and can be raked up in the spring. Straw is made up of the tough stems of wheat. The animals don’t eat it, and it is not absorbent, but it will mix in and freeze with the snow melt and provide a safe path for the next few weeks. I think that it looks rather cheerful.