Sunday, 28 June 2015

Wonkylibrium, A Bed-time Story

This is a tale of six orphaned chicks. The four members of the Junior League lost their mother at about three days old (A Positive Crisis), whilst the younger pair (known as the Junior-Two League) were not strictly orphaned, just abandoned at four weeks. Junior-Two League's Mum is still around, hanging out on field corners, flying with the boys, doing worms, all the usual stuff – but you can't call out social services on a delinquent hen.

In spite of deaths in the family and unfit mothers, all six have done well, but with one glaring difference – the Junior League just don't get perching.

The Junior-Two League were taught perching by their mother – not a deliberate training, just necessity. She stopped looking after them, stopped providing the centrally-heated duvet, and returned to the main perch to sit with the other birds over night. Showing great skill, determination and a desire to be warm, the Junior-Two League worked out how to get up on the perch. Both chicks are barely knee-high to a grasshopper (provided your grasshoppers are nine inches tall) but they made it. Mum took care of them for a night or two, but then there were all those distractions and cockerels like old Mosaic to flirt with, and new-boy Party Pants to check out.

The Junior-Two League have their own perch now, just to stop the big birds from picking on them. Every evening, as it gets dark, they work their way past the other chickens and get themselves safely off the ground for the night. It's amazing what they have achieved after a couple of harsh lessons from their bad-girl Mum.

The Junior League are different, coming up on three months old, and the sort to eat grasshoppers for breakfast. The sort to fight over the last, terrified grasshopper... These are the big chicks, the junior thugs on the block, but they don't have a damned clue about perching. Their idea of a safe place for the night is pick a bit of floor and huddle close. Seriously? These are supposed to be chickens, not penguins in the Antarctic.

The current compromise is for me to put them on top of a nest-box. I have a perch for them, but that is currently not working. Bedtime is a complex, dynamic equilibrium of burrowing to be the one who gets the sweet-spot under the sibling feather-duvet. On the floor it doesn't matter, but up on top of a box, this jostling heap of chicks moves sideways, and they don't watch where they're going. As the song goes, the little one said roll over...

That's on top of a box. On a perch is much faster. Shuffle, shuffle, splat...

So, the bed-time routine: Put the chicks on the box. (They can fly, they can jump, but they just haven't got the message, so I pick them up and put them on the box.) They jostle, they wrestle, they perform the wonkylibrium, and I pick up the one that fell off the edge and put it back. They jostle some more... and I pick up the loser...

I wrote their school report in my head. "Proven problem generator. Fully adept at fouling up the same task repeatedly. Rises to new challenges, and falls off. Intellectually challenged and lost every time." It helps to pass the time.

Eventually, I get bored, or they settle down and stop falling off. In comparison, the Junior-Two League watch the whole performance from their perch.

Chickens. Can't live with them, can't kill and eat them... Wait. Back up. Chicken sandwich, anyone?

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