Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Putting the Chickens to Bed

It is hovering near the freezing mark tonight and there is a fine mist of precipitation in the air. We'll have to put the chickens to bed tonight. Our family has always been surprised at what hardy creatures chickens are. They look small and fragile, but they live outside all year round, tolerating Indiana's temperature extremes very well. This time of year, however, we feel our birds need a bit of extra help. Most nights, all of the hens will bed down in one of their houses for the night. Batosi, our lone rooster, a cute little Japanese bantam, is not always so practical. On really cold nights when Nick goes out to check on the chickens, Batosi can generally be found roosting on top of one of the houses. He is usually alone. Now, you might think that this isn't a problem because he would have sense enough to go inside if he were truly cold. You would think so, wouldn't you? But the truth of the matter is, that bird will stay outside even when when it is so cold that there is frost on his back! Chickens are susceptible to frostbite on their feet and wattles without enough winter protection, so we worry. We don't know if Batosi is committed to staying outside to guard the hens, or if he simply prefers some solitude over being hen-pecked in the coop, but night after night Nick has to put him to bed.

This is a task that Nick has taken on himself. It's a good thing he is willing to do this, because I probably would not. First of all, I am not fond of venturing outside when it is cold and dark (especially disliking the cold part), and number 2, Nick simply cares more about the chickens and their welfare than I do. I like them well enough, but I focus my nurturing on our dog and cats and some nights there just isn't a lot of nurturing left over for the chickens.

It is kind of ironic that it is Batosi who needs and gets this extra attention. We weren't supposed to have him at all. Since it isn't necessary to have a rooster unless you want chicks, we did not plan to keep any roosters. We always requested pullets (young hens) instead of a "straight run" which means you get what you get. But sexing chicks is tricky business, and somehow Batosi (who after all was only the size of an Easter peep when we got him) slipped through. A lot of people who keep poultry turn their young roosters into dinner, but we have never eaten any of our birds. Besides, Batosi is a very handsome and showy bird who has always been quite friendly. He is not at all mean as some roosters become. He also pretty much leaves our hens alone, and so we are happy to keep him around. Maybe this is why Batosi feels it is his duty to stay out in the elements and watch over the rest of the flock. And maybe this is why we think he is worth tucking in at night.

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