Monday, September 24, 2012

Bird Watching

Mickey Finn & Harem Grasshopper Hunting
I watched the Head Rooster, Mickey Finn, take his six hens to the far side of the pasture, grasshopper hunting. They stayed in a cluster, with him on watch, while the hens chased anything that moved. Mickey kept his head up, ready to give a warning chuckle alerting the hens to danger.
I know there are hawks and foxes around - so it's good to see this rooster performing his traditional job. Micky is two years old, he was raised by a hen, who watched over her chicks much the same way. His mother protected him from ducks, cats, the other hens and his sire.
I'm not sure how much a chicken can learn - they aren't at all smart. "Dumb cluck" is one of the many chicken sayings I learned as a kid.
I do know that chicks raised by hens are better at parenting than purchased chicks, or chicks raised alone. Roosters raised by hens are more protective of their girls. They tend to court the hens with gifts of food, dance for them and generally fuss over them more.
All last week, while I mowed the pasture, Mickey and his hens hunted in the freshly cut grass. Spike sort of circled the flock, looking for a stray hen. Mickey ran him off several times. Spike always circled back, he seemed jealous of the way the hens stayed close to Mickey Finn.
Today I was amused to see that Spike learned by watching Mickey. I saw him escort two hens to the other side of the pasture. He kept his head up, on guard, while the hens hunted. This was his first time as protector. The three of them spent at least an hour at it.
The other rooster, Mojo is - well - more caveman in his approach. He chases the hens down, mates in a hurry and runs off. I've never seen him feed a hen, dance for one or take one out hunting.
This morning, Mojo stayed in the yard, trying to run down hens. They all tried to get away. Some of them raised such a fuss that Mickey ran across the pasture to run Mojo away from the hen.
There are eighteen young hens, I suspect Mickey'll end up with about half of them. Spike may well end up with the rest. Hens don't like to be treated roughly, so I'll wager Mojo doesn't have a harem of his own. He'll continue to run down the ones who stray too far from their chosen protector. 
This is a good example of 'natural selection in action' because Mickey and Spike were raised by hens, second and third generation, respectively. Their behavior is more likely to net them the prize: a harem of hens and offspring.
In fact, Spike IS Mickey Finn's offspring - the result of three generations of chicken breeding on this farm. I have 4 more of Mickey's offspring, two pullets and two baby roosters, to carry on the tradition next year. 
Survival of the fittest?
I guess. It appears that I'm raising the next generation of chickens adapted to surviving the harsh conditions of Jordan's Croft.
Pretty neat, eh?

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