Monday, August 22, 2011

The Food Man/The Food Lady

Chickens are ravenous beasts. They would have you believe that they are starving to death every time you come around with food. That's just because they know we're suckers. Because we are.

My husband and I joke that the chickens refer to us as The Food Man and The Food Lady because that's all we're good for. As soon as our chickens hear the back door open, they start pecking at the hardware cloth on the door of their pen and fighting to be the one in front when we get out there. Every morning before I head out to my day job, I bring them a treat. It usually consists of a variety of scraps or, sometimes, when I don't have any good leftovers or something they'll like (they can be picky little divas about their food), I bring them a piece of bread. When I unlock the door and start to open it, I have to shoo them back so I can toss them the treats or put treats in their suet feeder - the suet feeder was a great idea. At 7:30 in the morning, I'm not trying to have to chase them back into the pen after having only five or ten minutes of forage time (they do not like to cooperate when they don't think they're getting their way, which is more diva attitude I'm afraid). I generally step inside the run (it's around 8 feet high, so I can easily walk around in there) blocking the door and throw some treats on the ground while I check out everyone and say my good mornings. The girls generally are looking for me when I head out the back door and will let me know if I'm running late by making some inpatient squawking noises. They know when it's time for The Food Lady to make an appearance.

God forbid I go out to check for eggs without a treat. They make me feel horrible about myself, like I'm a bad chicken mommy. They'll do their clucking and clamoring to be front in line at the pen's door, but when it becomes obvious that you aren't there to let them out of give them treats, they start making mean noises. I swear they get mean look on their faces too! If it's possible for chickens to furrow their brow, mine do it.

Whenever my husband or I got out to let the chickens free-range in the backyard, we bring treats. Again, it's usually a variety of leftovers and tidbits from the kitchen that we know they'll like. Favorite things include bread, rice, tomatoes, cooked pasta, meat (they are lovers or pork and beef), melon, cooked or uncooked squash, and pizza crust. Generally, we throw some pieces of whatever we've got on the ground when we first let them into the yard. A few of our girls will head out to their favorite forage spots once the initial treats are gone, but a few stick around to make sure you aren't hoarding any other delicious food items, which we usually do. We had to start bringing out a container with a lid so we could keep the chickens out of whatever we have left. See, we keep a little on hand to help coax everyone back into the run when free time is over. At one point Pouncey became hip to our jive and started jumping onto the table in the backyard and eating off of the plate or out of the bowl that held the bribe. Then Bossy followed suit. Neither hen is easily dissuaded. Hence the container with a lid.

One thing I did not expect when we got chickens was how much they have their own tastes. I assumed all chickens liked the same things. You can throw anything out for them to eat and some of them will look at you like you're crazy while others are gobbling it down. Our biggest diva, Bossy, is probably our pickiest eater. She likes carbs - bread, rolls, rice, pita, pizza crust. She does not appreciate new things and will not "take one small bite," which we tell our four-year-old son when there are new things on the dinner table. She hates squash and hard boiled eggs and nectarines...and the list goes on. Two of our hens are in the middle in terms of pickiness: Pouncey and Erickson. Occasionally they will pass on something, usually types of squash or eggplant, in order to grab up all the rice or breadcrumbs, but they'll usually get in on whatever action there is to be had. The babies, our nine-week-old Japanese/Old English Game bantams, are also moderately picky eaters. They'll eat most anything, but do favor some foods over others. Finally there's Ochocinco. She is a garbage disposal. We should have named her piglet because she likes to eat and she's not picky. If it's edible, I cannot imagine her turning it down.

It's not a bad job being The Food Lady. It's probably my favorite part of being a chicken mommy. Chickens love treats and if you have some, they love you too.  Plus, our girls will take treats out of your hand and I love it. I'm not above bribery to make them like me.

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