Cats and Books

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Is This A Green Welly I See Before Me?

Ages ago, I wrote about the Pursuit of Green Wellies, the way chicks and lambs quickly learn that the things wearing the green wellies come bearing food. Now it’s the turn of one of our older hens.
Black Lacy in her prime in 2010
Black Lacy - the name is essentially descriptive, a black hen with brown mottling on her wings that made her look like she was clothed in black lace when she was in her prime. Now it makes her look like a grubby old hen in need of a wash, but no judgements here: I’m a middle-aged bloke in need of a smaller waistline.
Black Lacy is not our oldest hen – that would be Chicky, who just keeps going – but Lacy is the one most seriously showing her age. Black Lacy moves slowly, she is incredibly light when you pick her up, and based on prior experience, she is going to drop off the perch some time this year. However, she seems perfectly content pottering around, relaxing in the sun when we have any, and laying the occasional egg when the mood takes her.
The other notable thing is that she is very nearly blind. One eye is completely useless, and there is no noticeable movement of the iris. The other clearly picks up something, but not enough to, say, stop her running into walls. To be fair, that was because all the other hens went chasing something, Black Lacy just got caught up in the moment and never saw the wall everyone else swerved past. My partner heard the impact as her beak hit the wall.
Black Lacy today - to be fair, the
light wasn't as good
The only thing she sees reliably are green wellies. Because her eyesight is so poor, there are certain rituals during the day. I start with lifting her down off the perch in the morning and putting down a pile of corn when all of the other hens have gone, otherwise she would get nothing. There is a similar routine in the evening – wait until everyone else is on the perch and then put down a pile of corn for Black Lacy.
She can’t see the corn, of course. Or not until it is literally right under her beak, or moving. When I trickle corn slowly out of my hand she tracks the movement – once she has found one end of the trail, she keeps following and pecking. Or gets it totally wrong and heads away from the food, but then it is easy to pick her up and start again.
Now I have a new routine, because I noticed her tracking my wellies. I don’t know if it is the colour, the size, or a dim memory from chickhood, but she recognises something about those big green boots and the first place she hunts for corn is right between the toe-caps. Unlike chicks, she doesn’t race towards green wellies, in fact she doesn’t race anywhere (except for the unfortunate incident with the wall) but she does recognise them.
That, or she can smell my feet through five millimetres of rubber. You never know with a chicken.
Whatever it is, our blind hen knows the significance of green wellies.