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A week of warm February days
(really warm! In the 80’s
in some parts of Oklahoma)
and Ann has let the chickens
and guineas out of the barn
to free range.
They seem to be finding food:
grass seeds,
probably some insects
and the corn and seed I put out
for the song birds.
The fowl scratch and peck at the ground.
Two gymnastic squirrels
help themselves at the bird feeders,
chatter at the chickens and guineas
below.
Honey bees buzz around one feeder,
interested in the cracked con.
The cat that thinks it’s a chicken
watches from nearby.
Song birds stay away
until the chickens and guineas
and the cat
have moved on.
The oldest, white and brown rooster
charges across the yard,
chasing hens,
trying to round them up
into his little harem. Having spent
the last three months in the barn
with all sorts of sub-families,
they seem to have forgotten
that they belong to his flock.

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Finally,
by early afternoon,
winter shadows lengthen
in filtered sunlight
and, despite a squawking Guinea,
song birds return,
all:
Red-Winged Blackbirds,
Cardinals, Meadowlarks,
Chickadee, sparrows
the Goldfinches.
It’s 60 degrees
and climbing.

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Summer seems
so quiet.
The breeze has calmed,
catching the wind chime only
now and then
instead of constantly.
Birds chirp
rather than sing.
There is quite a lot of silent
motion: butterflies, wasps, dragonflies flit.
Now a hen lets out a string
of cackles,
then
there is a hush
before the breeze stirs
and chimes ring
again—
a guinea
squawks.
Cicadeas’ sizzle
starts. A rooster
out back
crows.
But even the sounds—
the chirps,
the squawks,
the chimes,
the cicadeas—
seem quiet.

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Evening is quieter
still. Air hangs
thickly.
Motionless, silent cranes
fish.
An orb spinner is so still
I bash into its web reaching
for a tomato.
In the night,
fireflies glow greenish yellow
all around the yard,
in trees. Stars keep company
in silence.
Where is that
mockingbird and why has he stopped
singing all night?

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DSCN3689Cochin Rooster

They are shy,
the Chinese chickens
called Cochin—
staying in the smallest pen,
until we urged them out
into the larger barn community.
They began to move about
some.
Still, they seem to like
each other best,
and cozy corners.
which is where we often found them,
together.
After a few weeks,
they had yet to find their way
up and over and out
the chicken and guinea door.
So Ann made it safe for them
to exit ground level
out into the goat pen.
(In other words, she moved the goats
into the alpaca pen
to use as their daylight home.)
With some enabling,
the Cochins walked into the sunshine
and began pecking at the grass.
It wasn’t long
before they retreated back into the pen
(the hen, before I had photographed her)
but they don’t have direct access to the barn now
and surely the sunshine
and the goodies in the soil
will beckon them
and they will enjoy the outdoors
as much as the other chickens.
Maybe.
The one thing we know
about the natural world—
every single being in the natural world—
is that nothing is predictable.
Nature surprises
at every turn.
Something new emerges
as the parts
respond to each other.
So thank you,
dear chickens,
dear guineas:
you are great teachers.

 

The youngest flock of chickens—
plus three young guineas—
have been living in an outside pen
that connects to the barn.
They’ve had access to the indoor coop
but not to the entire barn,
where the older flock lives.
This has protected the younger hens
and younger roosters
from more aggressive roosters.
Now they are all grown up—
and last week,
Ann and Frank butchered
the three most aggressive roosters.
That leaves two roosters—
a white-tailed one
and the big, beautiful Cochin.
The Cochin are shy souls.
I’ve seen the rooster back away
from hens, who fend him off
with a simple peck.
The big, beautiful gray Cochin hen,
who snuggles underneath him,
does not fend him off.
She is so shy,
her fertive forays into the bigger barn
end with her finding a corner to hide in,
and she always finds her way
back to the safety of her coop corner.
We wonder if she’ll ever have the courage
to venture outdoors,
once its safe for the birds to leave the barn.

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Cochin hen, hiding in a corner

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Cochin rooster, standing next to Cochin hen, hiding in the corner

Now,
Pearl, one of the pygmy goats,
escapes daily from the barnyard pen
that is her home.
We were surprised when she greeted
Ann one evening
as Ann walked up to the barn.
We were surprised when she escaped
again
after we had spent much of the morning
reinforcing the fence.
We were surprised
when she found her way out again.
We don’t know why she leaves the pen,
because we usually find her
just outside the gate,
waiting to be let back in.
We reinforced another patch of  fence,
secured a gate more tightly,
and she escaped again.
At this point,
we have no idea how she gets out.

Barnyard mysteries
are part of daily life here;
life we can’t
predict,
control.
They keep us open,
observant,
engaged,
amused.

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Neither of us knew
it would look like
a portrait session.
He was in the dappled light
under the Hackberry tree
and in the flower beds off the front porch,
in the late afternoon,
scratching for bugs,
keeping an eye on the three hens
in his flock,
the other three roosters
not—
and me.

When we incubate chickens or guineas,
or buy babes at the farm store,
they are first housed in an indoor pen
at the Pond House.

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Ann keeps them fed, watered, dry, warm
until they’re old enough to graduate
to an outdoor pen.
There is quite a flock of chickens now
in the indoor pen;
and a group of teenaged-keets
have graduated to a pen in the barn
at the Farm House.

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There are mature chickens
free-ranging at the Pond House
and another batch of mature chickens
free-ranging at the Farm House.
Our oldest domestic birds
are six Guinea fowl, who
have been free-ranging
a couple of years.
(Everyone comes home into the barn
or pens at night.)

The rooster and three hens
that have free range at the Farm House
were first housed with some Guinea keets,
but only one keet survived.
And now, instead of joining the flock
of its own kind—
the other six Guineas—
this lone Guinea stays with its original family,
the rooster and three hens.
All day they wander the farm together,
Rooster steadfastly keeping an eye
on the hens;
Guinea tagging along.
They are the family.
Sometimes Guinea even joins them
in their in-the-barn-coop
for the night.

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And then
there’s the cat who runs with the chickens.
The gray, white and peach-colored cat
isn’t always with the fowl family,
but spends part of his day with them.

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Recently, I watched Rooster and two hens
waddle off toward the compost pile,
while a third hen,
busy scratching in the grass,
stayed behind.
Cat seemed to notice this
and stopped, watching the hen
until Rooster noticed she was missing
and hurried back after her.
Chickens, guinea and cat
then continued on their rounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHens, Rooster, Guinea
and Cat Who Runs With Chickens

Lately,
when I open the door
to the chicken coop
in the morning
a male guinea
chases one of the chicken hens.
Then rooster chases the guinea.
They do this for a few minutes
and then get serious about eating breakfast.

Yesterday,
up in my yard under the Hackberry tree
where I scatter sunflower seed and chicken scratch
for the wild birds,
a male Brown Headed Cowbird flew in
with a flock of black birds,
but then he didn’t fly away again.
And he didn’t eat.
He sat, hunched,
on top of the seeds.
Neither did he fly away
suddenly, when the others did.

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Chickens under Hackberry Tree

Rooster and the hens
venture into the yard later in the morning
and while they’re pecking,
the sick Cowbird toddles out of their way.
Eventually the cowbird moves over
to the heated water bowl.
He reaches his head up
and pecks at the rim of the bowl,
but can’t reach the water
and doesn’t seem to have the energy to hop up
for a drink.
He sits, hunched against the bowl
for awhile
and eventually,
takes a low flight path
away.

Late afternoon,
chickens are back,
and so is the Cowbird,
though I don’t see him
until it’s too late.
A cat appears from somewhere,
nabbing the sick cowbird,
which sets off a chain reaction
among the chickens…
a brown hen is disturbed
and flies up,
which sets off rooster,
who runs after the cat
who dashes toward the barn,
rooster chasing,
until a male guinea goes after rooster.
They have a long cock fight,
head to head,
flaring neck feathers,
flying up,
dancing in circles—
neither getting the advantage,
until another male guinea
rushes the male guinea
who started the fight,
and they run off together.

I find cat but the cowbird
is already dead.
Before long,
chickens, guineas,
cats, birds
are all pecking the ground,
or sitting in the sun,
wandering around,
keeping safe space,
coexisting again.