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Friday, February 13, 2015

A Chicken Chautauqua in the Valley…

coup to go“Ain’t nothin’ don’t like a chicken,” my environmentally-sensitive friend Nancy L commented a while back when one of our chats touched on the subject of poultry. Her words are what I consider every time Gladys and I wobble by the Frohning’s sometime cornfield, presently pasture. For the last couple of months I’ve noticed a mobile chicken coop in various quarters of the field. The structure just appeared one day like a humongous portabella mushroom.  The coop with its swaybacked roof and weathered sides looks like some rustic subject painted by Andrew Wyeth. The structure rests on an old hay wagon and at the whim of those who tend the flock, can be towed to greener quadrants of the pasture.Frohning and Frohning

When this primitive chicken RV first caught my attention, it was smack dab in the middle of the pasture. Members of the flock appeared as just so many dots sprinkled around the wagon. Only the faint crow of a rooster from time to time hinted at the structure’s function.  Our Valley is home to a variety of hawks, and this time of year I see eagles nearly every day Gladys and I venture forth. On two occasions I have seen coyotes loping across the fields. “Ain’t nothin’ don’t like a chicken,” I think whenever I see that flock of fifty or so birds in a wide open field with nothing to protect them but luck and the shelter of the coop—and some of the bolder hens wander beyond the point of no return, plump meals for any predator riding the Valley air currents. “That flock is certain to dwindle,” I think every time I pass by.grounded eagles

Lately the coop has been relocated so close to the road that the flock wanders the shoulder; some even forage in Decks’ pasture across the road. As I ride along today, as if it’s an exercise in“Where’s Waldo,” I look for the coop, notice it’s been relocated at the far end of the pasture even closer to the road. I no sooner note the new location when an ATV pulls onto the asphalt, then slows as I approach. Sandy Frohning is at the wheel. She pulls up next to me, smiles and shuts down her ride. I notice she has a basket heaped high with eggs balanced on her left knee. Ah, here’s the chicken tender of the flock up close and personal. After we exchange greetings, I seize the opportunity to ask the question I’ve been longing to ask every time I pass that vulnerable covey. “Your chickens roam the wide open spaces,” I tell her, “aren’t you afraid of losing your stock to marauding hawks and eagles?” “The eagles or maybe a coyote may have taken a couple” Sandy replies, “but the highline wires provide some protection from the air and I’ve got a good rooster that keeps one eye on the skies and field. Any threat from above or below and he sounds the air raid siren, sends the flock scurrying to the shelter of the coop.”

Sandy fills me in on a good rooster’s job responsibility. “Every good rooster performs the three P’s,” she says. I have had some chicken experience of my own--as a onetime chicken rancher when I was a boy, and later here in the Valley when I rode herd on Fred Rogers, our rogue rooster. The “P” that immediately came to mind  was “poop,” the dirty reality of poultry ranching. Imagine my surprise when Sandy filled me in on the three P’s, none of which involved excrement. I learn that any good rooster on salary “Protects”: watches over his girls, warns them when danger is at hand; “Provides”: seeks out grubs, worms, other morsels and then calls the ladies to table; “Procreates”: sustains the numbers of his harem. “I’ve got a good one,” she smiles. “The young roosters only have one thing on their minds.” “Ah, yes,” I muse, “only to be young again.”

I learn Sandy gathers two and a half dozen eggs a day, all of which she sells to a local farm. “It’s the only thing making any money for us,” Sandy says. The Frohnings run a small dairy herd and, well, with milk prices as they are…. With her eye on the farm finances, she wants to double, even triple, egg production and is always on the lookout for more layers. If anyone out there in shouting distance has extra hens they’re tired of tripping over when they go out the back door, Sandy could use the surplus.

She fires up the ATV and heads back to the farm to clean the day’s clutch of eggs. Gladys and I ride off, at least one of us a bit wiser about roosters and the poultry business. A mile or so closer to home it hits me:  there was a second question I’ve been dying to ask a poultry expert. Just now I had one at hand and failed to ask it. So Sandy, if you’re reading The Ripple these days, answer me this: “Why do your chickens cross the road?”winter in the Valley

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  1. A friend used to raise free range broilers in a small pasture, about 50 feet across. She would string mylar flash tape from poles on either side of the pasture to protect her chickens from hawks and eagles. Apparently the predators have difficulty seeing things on the ground if their eyes are focused on something closer.
    My great grandmother in Arkansas used to raise a few guinea hens along with her chickens. The guinea hens were more watchful than the chickens and would always raise the alarm if a chicken hawk was in the neighborhood.

  2. Jim, the Frohning's chicken RV has a string of dangling CDs set up, the glint from which is also supposed to be a raptor inhibitor. I told Sandy if she set up a sound system looping RAP music, that would deter any self-respecting coyote or bear. Also, no white poultry, Sandy said, for reasons obvious. Thanks, Jim, from The Ripple. TMJ

  3. I don't have a rooster for my flock of 9 hens but I've been considering it, maybe some day. I did however added some bird netting over my chicken run a couple months ago because there was a hawk in the neighborhood that would sit on my roof and eye my hens and was afraid to lose any of them. I've heard the coyotes around but so far it doesn't appear they've figured out how to get past my 6' fence. My chickens don't have access to the road so sorry I can't answer your question about that. Perhaps they just like the feel of the asphalt on their toes.

  4. Once upon a time, Paula, we had a "pet" rooster. Never again; however, we didn't have a flock of hens to keep him occupied. My daughter named him Mr. Rogers, but it was never a wonderful day in the neighborhood when he was afoot. A rogue rooster, Fred was. Whenever I think of Mr. R, I think of that Rene Zellweger line in Cold Mountain: "One thing I can't abide is a floggin' rooster." Regarding air and ground assaults on brother had a mink tunnel into his coop enclosure and dispatched two or three hens in short order. Thanks for answering my chicken question. Sounds plausible. Perhaps a better answer is: because they can. Thanks for reading. TMJ