Our two young chickens, Miss Patty and Babette, live in a little fenced off area beside our house. It’s got hedges all around it and there’s plenty room for them to run around. As chickens do, they have industriously scratched up all the grass in search of bugs, and tilled the soil rather efficiently (so it’s a shame that it doesn’t get heaps of sun and is no good for growing vegies or anything but scrubby grass). So what was once quite a nice spot is now a bit damp and muddy and the grass doesn’t have a chance to recover.
This morning I was feeling a bit sorry for them in the dirt and cold (even though apparently chickens don’t mind the cold, as one commenter on a chicken website put it, “they’re basically like walking duvets”) and thought they might like scratching around on the back lawn. However, I’m reluctant to let them out to just free range, because although our two cats either ignore or are intimidated by the chickens, there are some bold neighbourhood felines who have been getting into the yard and causing a nuisance lately and I don’t know what their level of chicken curiosity is. Also because the front gate stays open, who knows where the chooks would go if they wandered that way (I actually saw a chicken on the highway verge the other day, just doing it’s chickeny thing. It was quite unexpected).
The coop had an attached mesh run, but because they’re in their little hedged enclosure they don’t need it. So I pulled the run off the coop and relocated it to a sunny patch of lush grass. Miss Patty, who has been dutifully laying eggs for the past few weeks, allows me to pick her up. She does this thing where, if you get too close, she flattens herself to the ground and goes still. It’s apparently (according to the handy chicken website) what chickens do once they are laying eggs, when they think a rooster is going to try his luck…so I don’t know who she thinks I am. But anyway. It made it easy to pick her up, give her a cuddle, and take her over to the sunny grass. Compared to the cold, muddy enclosure, it was (to my eye, anyway) like paradise. She immediately set about nibbling the greenery and clawing up new divots.
Babette, though, will not be touched. She hasn’t laid any eggs yet, and she is much more timid than Miss Patty. She won’t try scraps until Miss Patty has run off with them in her beak, and then she’ll chase Miss Patty and eat whatever drops to the ground. She is extremely suspicious of me. And as for picking her up? No chance. Because she’s not laying yet I can’t play the rooster card. She just runs and runs and runs and runs until I give up. You can’t reason with a chicken either. “But there’s so much more to eat on the other side of that hedge! It’s sunny and warm! There’s grass! Miss Patty’s over there! It’s great!” Nope. The rest of the day she spent longingly peering through the hedge and chirruping at Miss Patty, as though she’d be quite happy to go over there as long as she didn’t have to deal with the Giant Unfeathered Rooster who kept trying to pick her up.
Mum, who had been watching this whole spectacle, opened the window and called out, “happier to make mud pies in a slum than to have a holiday by the seaside!” Indeed.