We spent the day at the Pacific Poultry Breeders Association 65th Annual Show in Stockton, California. What a wonderful day it was. There were so many beautiful breeds of poultry and some very exotic breeds too. My absolute favorite breed of chicken is the Phoenix. The roosters can have tail feathers up to twenty feet long, if they are cared for especially well. We didn't see any with tail feathers that long but there were some beautiful roosters and they caught my eye the moment we walked into the show. We also spent some time with a wonderful young Brazilian Asil rooster. He was extremely friendly and calm. The Asil or Aseel are one of the more rare breeds in our country and have been used extensively for cock fighting in other countries. They are very aggressive toward other chickens and birds in general but they are very trusting and gentle to humans. The young rooster we held and visited was so sweet and literally wanted us to continue to spend time with him. I have never been very fond of the look of the modern game birds but after today my opinion of them has changed. I can see where they would make wonderful 4H showmanship birds or pets if they were housed by themselves. It was hard to say goodbye to the big guy but there were a lot of birds to see before the day was over so we gave him one more little gentle scratch under his beak and headed off to see as many other breeds as we could before going home. The best part of the day for me was when we were standing inside the huge warehouse like building of the fairgrounds in which all of the bantam breeds were being shown. Sometime earlier in the day a pigeon had escaped and was hiding in the rafters. I don't know if the pigeon was intentionally flying over the huge assemblage of cages below, playfully terrorizing all the caged birds, or if it was just trying to find a way out, but every time it took flight there was a resounding overture from all the chickens below. It was like a wave building in intensity as a resonant plea would start at one end of the great hall and roll to the other in a sonorous warning. Obviously there were a few chickens who equated pigeon with hawk and their panic and confusion was contagious. I shouldn't laugh at the little birds gripped with terror but the sounds they made were hilarious... “Lord, I apologize to you and all the little pygmy bantams in Stockton...”
Today our hens gave us fourteen eggs! That is the new record to beat. It is hard to believe that we are getting a dozen plus eggs each day when less than a year ago I was researching what breeds of chickens to purchase. Of course in the end I couldn't make a decision, because all the breeds I researched sounded wonderful, so we bought fifteen different breeds! Most of the hens were chosen because they were good laying hens. I say most because we did purchase two Polish chicks. Their crazy feathered crests and blue legs were so appealing that we chose to add them to the flock in light of their low production. We decided they would be for pure entertainment value. Polish hens are mediocre layers of small to medium white eggs. Originally, I didn't want any white eggs but now that we have such an assortment of brown, blue, and green eggs it is kind of neat to see an occasional white egg in our daily accumulation. The blue and green eggs are really a treat but they are not my favorite. The dark chocolate brown eggs of our Welsummer hen are so striking that they have become the most cherished eggs on the farm and I try to include at least one in every bunch of eggs we sell. It probably goes without saying but I'm already making plans to purchase more Welsummer hens and maybe some Black Copper Marans and Barnvelders too!
Our two Polish hens (Golden Laced Polish on the left and Buff Laced Polish on the right).
The Golden Laced Polish hen at about one month old.
“I think she needs to cut back on the groceries, don't you think?”
“Well, she is getting a bit plump.”
“Plump, are you kidding ... she looks like she swallowed a water buffalo!”
“That is just rude, you know! You shouldn't talk about others like that! You should apologize.”
“For what? It's true, she is huge!”
The guineas continued to argue, voices flaring, as they trotted away and I couldn't help but think that maybe I had been a little over indulgent over the holidays, but “huge” really? I started trying to figure out ways to get my body to slim down fast. Maybe fasting or I could take up jogging. It has been about twenty years since I jogged but I'm not too old to start it again. I could jump rope. I love to jump rope, especially with some good music blaring in the background. Maybe some Wolfgang Gartner or some LMFAO, really pounding. Just then I turned to see Penstemon standing behind me. She is due to kid next month. Relief flooded over me, the guineas must have been arguing about her. Or were they …?
There is a moment between slumber and waking that is always wrapped in fog. You might hear a sound that seems logical while you dream it but it would not be so in consciousness. This morning I was dreaming that a mocking bird was making the shrill scream of a guinea hen. It seemed plausible in my dream although I've never heard a mockingbird mimic a guinea hen in real life. But something was not quite right and I woke up. In a moment I realized that the guinea hens were, in fact, screaming. I glanced at the clock, worried that I had overslept. The guinea hens have a strict schedule and if I don't let the chickens out of their house before dawn the guinea hens, who roost on top of the chicken's coop, always yell to tell me that I am falling down on the job. The clock said 3:58 AM. The guinea hens, although somewhat bossy at times, have never been so rude as to wake up this early. I must admit though, their safety and well being was not the first thing that came to my mind, once I realized something was wrong. I was more worried that they were going to wake up our neighbors. So I jumped out of bed and rushed to hush them up. As I stepped out the front door an onto the porch the chill of early morning air slapped my face. The guinea hens were still screaming, all three of them in unison. I had the good flashlight in my hand, the one in which the beam will reach the man in the moon if need be, but still I did not see what all the ruckus was about. As I neared the chicken coop a huge owl came into focus. It was standing about two feet away from the three screaming guineas. My approach spooked it and it lifted off into the darkness. The guineas seemed comforted for a moment and they quieted right down. I scanned all the nearby trees making sure that the owl had moved on. I then said good night to the guineas, as it was still night in my mind, and I started back to the house. When I was about ten feet away the guineas started screaming again. They would quiet right down as soon as I was within ten feet of them but if I moved beyond that they would again start screaming. I tested this invisible boundary line a couple times then decided I'd better do a more thorough search so that I could go back inside and if by some miracle the neighbors had slept through this, they might in fact be able to get a couple more hours of sleep. I walked completely around the outside of the chicken yard. I inspected the nearby rabbit hutches and again lit up all the trees. This time the guineas watched closely. Satisfied that I had made sure all was safe, the guineas let me go back inside without a peep. Catching a few more winks was no longer a possibility, however, because now I need to figure out a way to keep the guineas from becoming a morning snack.