Archive for July, 2011

Bird Brains

I was out tending my chickens today, gathering their eggs from the mobile chicken house, when I noticed an oddball egg laid on the ground under their living quarters. So, I went and grabbed my trusty German hoe, and held it sideways, using its long blade to roll the egg effortlessly to my feet. No need to crawl in the dust under the dirty chicken wagon at all. This raised quite a bit of interest on the part of my flock of avian friends. They gathered around, cocking their little heads to the side, expressing the keenest of interest and amazement at the feat they just had witnessed. I looked at them and said, “That’s called a tool. Only humans and crows and chimpanzees use them. That’s why I’m eating your eggs, and not the other way ’round.”

They dumbly looked back.

Chickens marvel at tool technology


That got me to thinking about how smart crows are. My friend Kevin told me about an experiment he conducted in his middle school science class one time. He gave all the students a paperclip and a bottle or jar with something inside, with the assignment to retrieve the object, using only the paperclip to accomplish the task. This was based on an example of a crow that figured out how to bend the paperclip into a hook to retrieve the prize, as in this video:


The crow figured out what to do in about a half a minute. Kevin’s students struggled to figure out what to do in the space of a minute. So, with this in mind, it may be ill-advised to use the moniker “bird-brain” in a pejorative sense. Speaking of crow smarts, I heard the caw, caw, caw, and then saw several crows flying out of my melon patch the other day. This brought back memories of years ago, when we had problems with crows pecking open our watermelons during dry weather. I did not waste time in walking through the field to monitor for crow damage. Fortunately, there was none to be seen. Perhaps the crows were just checking things out that day. But I was not taking any chances in this dry spell, and I got out our old bird scare balloon and hung it up on a pole high over the melons. The shiny ribbons that once hung from the balloon were long gone. So I instead dangled my Mac OS 8 start-up disk beneath it. I figured that’s a CD I wouldn’t be using any more.

The Melon Patch

Now, I insinuated earlier that chickens are a bit unintelligent, but when it comes to maternal smarts, at least some hens can teach us a thing or two. The silver colored chicken tractor visible in the top right quadrant of the above photo is home to 29 Rhode Island Red hens and two content Rhode Island Red Roosters. One of the hens habitually hops the fence every day, and explores the farm at will for most of the day. She had been in the habit of laying an egg a day in an abandoned nesting box in one of the outbuildings. When I revamped the old mobile chicken wagon for the new flock of 99 hens, I moved that nesting box into the big mobile chicken wagon. After that, I couldn’t figure out where my Indy hen was laying her eggs. Until yesterday. I found her sitting in some tall weeds just outside the building she used to do her laying in. I figured I’d check back in the evening and collect the eggs for our own personal use, giving them the float test to see if they were still good. To my surprise, Indy was still there at dusk, and I realized that she had gone broody, and that, barring any predation, we’ll likely be proud hosts of some awfully cute little chicks in a week or two. Then it made sense that I had not noticed her strutting about the grounds for at least a week. So, I got some water for her, and set it there, and tried to cover her back up with the weeds I had tramped down, to shield her again from the intense heat we’ve been having. I was impressed by her dedication and stamina, staying on those eggs at all costs, even in 100 degree heat. I wish her the best.


Indy, holding out in the heat

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After the wettest Spring I can remember, we finally are getting rolling with Summer. With the delay in the planting season, we chose to open the roadside stand a month later than usual. Our first day open this year was on Saturday, July 2. So far, the corn, tomatoes, and cantaloupes are coming from Washington Boro, Lancaster County. But our own product should be ripening in the next week or two. Squash is pouring in, along with red raspberries and wineberries. If you’d like to try some of our squash, but don’t want to cook, head on down to the John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville, and treat yourself to our squash, prepared by their skilled staff. Potatoes are waiting a bit longer, as they got planted a month late, due to the wet Spring. But we are beginning to get a few tomatoes. And I anticipate that what is starting out like a trickle of tomatoes now will turn into a waterfall of love apples in a few weeks. The groundhog has found the cabbage and broccoli, but so far has not found the box trap. And the 100 pullets I got last week are now beginning to lay their first eggs. This Spring has kept us busy building mobile chicken coops. Having four small flocks of varying sizes, anywhere from nine to 99 birds, keeps one busy providing adequate housing. The chickens are settling in to their new digs now, and have all learned to go home to roost where they are supposed to–inside the mobile chicken coops. The solar-powered electric net fences are in place and functioning, and the weedy berry and asparagus patches are now getting weeded by curious chickens. Intensive management of small farm plots isn’t the easiest thing, but I am beginning to get the hang of it.

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