Thursday, February 11, 2010

Night, Night Mildred

Mildred - our Patridge Cochin

People often spread a blanket over their dog at night when they go to sleep. You might do that yourself, my mom does. She puts an old small sweatshirt on Rocky, her Schnauzer, and lays a blanket over the top of her before crawling into her own bed. But have you heard of anyone tucking their chicken in for the night? I do. We don't have a dog so I've haven't one to tuck in but that isn't really the reason why I tuck dear Mildred in at night.

It's because it's been terribly cold and I have this thing for misfit chickens. I've had to limit myself to two for I'd be tempted to have a flock of the worthless things. Mildred and Gertie roam around the barnyard never going beyond our pens and they brighten my days with their antics.

Mildred, our only Cochin, is my favorite. Her endearing waddle when she runs reminds us of Clucky, Maid Marion's, Maid In Waiting on Walt Disney's Robin Hood. We can just imagine her lifting up her skirts as she toddles from side to side as she runs.

Gertie here looks like a breeding program gone awry and basically she is. Last year, I wanted to know if my new incubator worked so I borrowed an old rooster from the neighbors to put in our coop for a couple weeks. Gertie is one of the results. My reading said when you cross, cross bred chickens once more you often get some undesirable traits from the three breeds. Well, the rooster was a cross bred himself and Gertie is by far the worst of the lot. What I can't figure out is why Gertie never had any tail feathers.

This poor ugly chicken to whom the other hens use to pick on unmercifully is an early riser and as the sun is just beginning to set, she mossies over to the hay shed and gets comfy on a hay bale under the plastic covering. Yup, Gertie sleeps with the barn cats. Last fall when we were stacking hay in the shed and the sun had nearly set, Gertie came in every few minutes and tried to find a place to sleep, usually on the hay bale you'd just set down. When you went to put another one on top, she'd cackle indignantly and go running out of the barn. Back in she'd come again two minutes later squawking, "You done yet?" over and over again like a kid saying " We there yet? We there yet?" like they do when you're on a long car trip and becoming more insistent with each telling.

If you think the cats do more than irritate the full grown chickens, it's never happened in the twenty-five years in our barnyard. In fact, the chickens are usually the more aggressive ones. Several times I've had to rescue a kitten that slipped into the chicken coop searching out mice. Their yowls for help soon let know just where they are - hanging from the top of the chicken wire in the run with a ring of hens milling just below, waiting with beaks sharpened.

That's why I had to change locations of where I fed the cats, for the neighbors band of a rooster and three hens would come over. They'd peck nonchalantly around on the ground. There wasn't anything there to eat just dirt. Steadily, they'd make their way closer to the cat dish, then reach inside, and snatch a morsel of cat food. When the cats who had gotten there first tried to eat, the chicken would whack - peck them on the head. As the cat stepped back more chickens would move in. After a time or two of this and the cats started howling, begging me to come drive off the chickens so they could eat. Soon the cats just had to see the chickens coming and they'd set off for me letting me know with their disgusted yowls that the chickens were back. I'd stop what I was doing and go chase them off, but soon they'd peck their way at nothing, back again. I now put a little feed off in one area for the chickens and give the cats there's a good distance away. It's working for now but the chickens haven't discovered the cat food yet. It's always a bigger draw than chicken scratch. One of these days I got to tell you about Puff Head our Polish rooster and his life with the cats but that's a story that warrnats a full blown post of its own.
You'd think Eggbert, the neighbor's rooster, would gather up Mildred and Gertie to join his harem. Nope, not Eggbert or even Sinbad the neighbors other rooster that died last fall. Not even when Sinbad was too old to compete with Eggbert for the three hens did he come claim ours. Nope, I fed him and then he'd sleep in the shed with our black Angus calf, Pedro. I never once caught him flirting with Mildred and Gertie. He simply ignored them.
So each day before the sun sets, I pull a loop of hay off from around a round bale and form a funnel for Mildred and in she goes for the night. Just a few nights ago I was late doing chores and the temperature was dropping fast. Mildred came running to my side, stood right next to my leg cackling that she was freezing cold and would I hurry. The funnel wasn't even complete before she had wiggled her way in and my arm brushed against her back as I formed the hay and tucked her in for the night.
I'm feeding the last round bale and will soon go to exclusively to feeding small squares from the hay shed. Last fall, I tried to build her a nice comfy square bale home since she wouldn't sleep with Gertie and the cats. She would have nothing to do with. I wonder if she'll be more receptive now? It's a long way to summer when Kirk says Mildreds coming back to the garden. He's missed her funny waddle amongst the vegetable plants and her dashes across the open space of the lawn to hide under a bush. Yup, Mildreds our favorite.

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