Chicken Tails

Hell hath no fury like a chicken scorned

Yesterday, fall was in the air.  I sat down in the dappled shade of mid-afternoon with my legs full out on the pavers on the walk outside the back door. Both hens were browsing along the branch where the Jewel Weed is blooming now, with its dangling orange flowers that produce the explosive seeds they so enjoy finding in the damp earth underneath.

Within a minute of my getting comfortable, Dione (the black hen) came up onto the walkway where I sat and then proceeded to hop up onto the porch beside me. She walked around behind me and the post I was leaning against, and promptly  fell over on her side. She just lay there, her top wing splayed open above her like a fan. Had she had a stroke? A minute later, the other hen came up along side her and assumed the same stricken side-lying  position–which I came to realize was their form of enjoying the sunshine, just like I was doing. So there were the three of us, man and hens, basking–each in his or her own way–on an early fall afternoon. Somebody shoulda had a camera.

We hope soon to replenish the flock–AND to bring some egg-laying discipline back for the two misbehaving survivors of last year’s initial four hens. They have taken to putting their eggs any random spot they choose and good luck locating the nest du jour until there are 8 or 10 brown eggs of questionable life-span somewhere in the tall grass. Or under the truck parked at the edge of the yard. Or more recently and strongly preferred–in the cool shade of the crawl space under the front porch.

Yesterday, after Ann’s 4th belly crawl under the porch to fetch the secret eggs, risking threat of yellow jackets and copper heads, I made sure (I think at least) that Dione–the smart black hen–could not slip in around my defenses like she has done several times when I thought “that’ll fix her!” Even as I sit here, she’s petulantly protesting her eviction (that’s why they call it chicken wire, deary) and taking running lunges to force her scrawny body through the 3″ holes in the plastic trellis, wired in place now and reinforced from the back side with large creek rocks.

Just now, she’s trying a “from above” tactic, peering down between the flooring boards of the porch, looking for a way to ooze down between them to her precious darling ova. The maternal instinct if irrepressible, and her futile efforts for the past half hour have been heart-breaking to watch–not to mention nerve-wracking to listen to. She’s back now to her constant scolding, and I am pretty sure that it’s me she’s a’cussin’.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I just love your chicken stories. Keep ’em coming!!
    I like the photos of your chickens also……….maybe throw in a photo of Tsuga chasing a chicken, or Ann chasing a chicken, or maybe a chicken chasing Ann!!! Ha!!

    Long live the Chickens!!


  2. Once again, Fred, an animal story I could not put down from you! Yes, please DO keep them coming. LOVED the image of the three of you sunning yourselves.

  3. Good one! I love the description of the sunbathers. One way to keep hens from laying anywhere is to keep them in the coop until mid-morning. By them they’ve laid the eggs in the nest boxes. Sometimes that gets them in the habit of laying in the boxes and they forget about laying them other places.

  4. I bet you hope Chris’s advice works on your chickens. But then there will be less chicken enteertainment for you and Ann, and your readers. Decisons, decisions.