Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spring Shuffle

In the past few years, it's become popular to have backyard chickens.  Lately, miniature goats have also found their way into the hearts of city dwellers.  That urbanites have become fond of these cacklers and bleaters, just warms the cockles of my heart.  We've been urban farmers for over twenty years.  All those new enthusiasts are simply catching up to where we are.

Wow.  We, the Reinhart family of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, are trendy.  

I enjoy talking to the newbies about their chickens and hearing their excitement.  When they learn how experienced we are, they flock to us with their questions:

What happens if one of my hens starts to crow?  Uh...that one isn't a hen.  My hens don't go inside when it snows.  Is that okay?  Yeah.  They're not the smartest birds on the block.  What do I do with a rooster?  Chicken noodle soup?  The conversation usually ends there.

I'm sure we had as many questions when we first started out, too.  

Winter is slow on our urban farm.  There's still plenty of work to do, but it's really just keeping everyone fed, watered, and protected from the elements.  Spring is when everything starts up again.  Hens start to lay eggs, Josephine looks for a place to hide a nest, all the bird's feathers come in fresh and new, Napoleon the Rooster starts attacking our feet with a vengeance, and Gussie the goose keeps all the predators away. 

Before this starts, there is the annual Spring Shuffle.  No, it's not a dance, though sometimes it seems as if someone has choreographed the whole thing.  Every bird in the yard has to find their place.  One wouldn't think it would be so challenging or creative.  It's different every year.

This year, we've had some interesting changes.  One of those changes, we implemented ourselves.  Gussie now has a pen to himself.  In the interest of my calves and the protection of our guests, he is in solitary confinement.  He's less aggressive without the females and we don't have to worry about an accidental hidden nest presenting us with a brood of new goslings.  We have four geese.  Enough is enough.  

The rest of the geese and the female duck are out in the main yard where they can scrounge around for any food they can find.  They keep the weeds down while they're at it.  The female geese are exceptionally docile and often follow us around the yard.  

Our chickens stay in the enclosed chicken yard.  There are exceptions.  Napoleon goes where ever he pleases.  He is the undisputed ruler of the farm, and if you don't believe him, he'll let you know by crowing loudly into your ear from his perch on the fence post.  

Josephine, our banty hen, also goes where she pleases.  Our son found her hidden nest under the rabbit cage one night.  He became suspicious when he heard the rabbit clucking away contentedly.  Peering under the cage, he found Jo the ventriloquist, sitting on her nest.  We can't reach it, so perhaps we'll have a brood of banties this year.

Then there are the odd ducks, so to speak.  One is a hen who has decided to keep Gussie company in his confinement.  It's unusual to have a friendship between a chicken and a goose, but I won't argue.  So far, so good.  Then there is Little Goose.  She is one of last year's goslings who has suddenly decided she'd rather stay in the chicken yard with the hens all day, rather than graze in the big yard with her mom and sister.  Again, I'm not going to argue.  It's peaceful out there.

Now we're getting eggs.  Out of sixteen hens, one duck, and three female geese, we got thirteen chicken eggs and a goose egg today. 

It's spring!