the thing about chickens is that they’re basically very small dinosaurs. whatever thing you definitely don’t want your chickens to do, that’s what they’ll do, by definition. they can not be trained, they can not be redirected. they do not recognize your “rules”. they have a pretty simple lizard brain that, apart from a few minor signals (BIG BIRD DANGER! LAY EGG NOW! MAKE NOISE!), basically has one massive, overriding mission: PUT FOOD IN!
one of the thing that my egg customers invariably say to me after a month or so of buying eggs from me is “gosh, i’ve never seen such yellow yolks!” indeed, i’m extremely proud of those yellow yolks, which indicate a robust and healthy avian diet, but they come at the terrible price of pretty much every single thing i attempt to plant.
as ground-dwelling birds, the chicken’s main food-gathering technique is digdigscratchscratch. this offers up a number of food options: seeds can be knocked off grass stems or unearthed from the soil; burrowing bugs are disturbed and gobbled up; worms are tricked to the surface for a quick, dirty slurp; and grasses can be fluffed for optimal end-biting. alternately, anything in the path of the chicken’s talon is destined for failure. bulbs and corms are uncovered, tender sprouts are smashed, and anything edible is quickly gobbled. woe to fruit of any sort. small fruits like berries are eaten whole. large fruits like eggplants are punctured, gutted, and made into wee eggplant-skin canoes, which are left to rot. it seems like, eventually, all things come under the blades of the lawnmower, eggplant-skin canoes and all.
i’ve managed to keep those glorious yellow free-range yolks and a simultaneous garden only with the interference of a hideous garden fence, green plastic and flappy in all the wrong places. two years ago, i fenced the garden proper and then hid the rest of my produce out of the range of chickens, out on the edge of my winter horse pasture where the ground had never been worked. my pumpkins and squashes weren’t eaten by chickens that year, but they weren’t eaten by me, either, as they were so meagre and measily that they weren’t worth harvesting. actually, they were eaten by chickens that year, in a sanctioned feed rather than stripped sneakily and messily from the vine. this is the same fate that meets cucumbers and zucchini that turn into baseball bats in the long, hot days of august. it’s how i keep from having to pick up slimy green tomatoes that got frosted before they ripened. the chickens are a roving, many-faced composter, doing the same work outdoors that the dogs do in: picking up anything that gets dropped, left, or unsupervised for too long.
last week, my cousin offered me a pumpkin that had been doing ornamental duty for about a month in the room next door to my office. it was a dignified squash, upright and blazingly orange. she wondered if my horses would munch it and i didn’t think that they would, but i did think i knew who might:
this will take them a few weeks to pulverize. i’ll check in from time to time to document the dinosaur damage.