Chicken Mayhem!

(Or, may-hen...?)

I often find chicken behavior to be quite amusing and endearing. I can't wait to someday have some space of my own to keep hens!

My horse lives in what is called a pipe stall or pipe corral - his stable has a roof, but each horse's individual space is separated by widely-spaced horizontal metal bars, and not wooden walls. This allows for ventilation as well as social interaction between the horses. A few scrappy hens and roosters live in the barn as well, and at night they roost on the highest bars of the horse stalls.

Last night when I went to visit my horse, I noticed one of the roosters acting funny - examining something on the ground and skirting nervously around it. I took a closer look and saw that it was a little snake! It was about 7" long and as thin as a pencil (maybe one of these?), and writhing in the dirt of the barn aisle. As I was debating whether or not to catch the snake under a bucket, a hen ran up and boldly snatched the snake in her beak!

She then began running around and weaving between the horses' stalls, dropping the snake a few times and picking it up again. Finally, she pecked the snake at the tail end, and slurped the whole thing down like a piece of spaghetti!

I've seen snakes in nature videos and in science class swallowing a whole mouse - but I had never seen a snake swallowed whole before! Very interesting and unexpected. That's probably the most "exotic" wildlife experience I've had so close to home!

On Tuesday evening I actually had another fun hen experience when I was helping my friend in her garden. I was cleaning the chicken coop (my specialty), and had managed to get 8 of the 10 hens out of the coop and into their adjoining wire-enclosed run.

I asked my friend if I should catch the two stragglers and put them in the run as well, but my friend said not to bother. The sun was setting, and chickens are supposed to have a strong instinct to take cover at night. If either of them escaped while I had the roof of the coop open, they should soon return home by themselves anyway.


One immediately flew out and began having a ball on the big compost heap next to the coop. My friend gets aged horse manure and wood shavings trucked in to use as mulch and compost, and the hen was having the time of her life scratching at the heap and throwing compost everywhere. Occasionally, she would lose her foot-hold and come sliding down the mulch mountain, with an avalanche of compost following her :)

When I was done cleaning the coop, I lifted the door that divides the coop from the run. The eight hens came streaming back into the coop. Instead of joining her sisters back inside the coop, the free hen enticed another four of them to join her party outside!

Soon, we had four hens digging in the compost heap ecstatically, and another running amok in the yard (probably the original ringleader). She took a peck of chard here, a nip of spinach there, and ran over the freshly planted pepper seedlings. The chickens didn't show any sign of wanting to return home, despite the fact that it was getting quite dark. Eventually, we rounded the loose hens up one by one and shut them in the coop for the night.

They will have their chance to spend time in the chicken tractor to uproot weeds and dig up grubs soon, but hopefully we'll be more careful not to let them range quite as freely as they did Tuesday night!

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