Sunday, May 06, 2012

Chicks on Bikes, or something like that...

The bird in the front is a hen, not a rooster.  What a beauty.

Today was the Alameda's annual Backyard Chicken Coop Bicycle Tour.  Alameda is about the cutest town imaginable, with lovely Victorian and Craftsman homes, and darling gardens.  The entire island has a 25 miles-per-hour speed limit, so cycling is safe and pleasant.

When we went on this tour in the past, Robb and I were looking at the possibilities of having chickens, and then at particular architectural issues that we (Robb, really) were pondering.  This time, we asked a lot of questions about behavior.

This sweet little frizzled bantam hen was terribly hen-pecked by her larger flock-mates.

We saw several groups of hens who were mercilessly pecking at each other.  In one case, one aggressive hen taught all her flock-mates this bad behavior.  Their keepers had tried everything to curb the hen-pecking, and finally outfitted the chickens with chicken peepers, which are a sort of visual barrier, worn like a chicken pince-nez

I was hesitant to photograph chickens with plucked feathers, because I didn't want to be seen as judgmental of the people caring for these animals.  It's easy to stroll into someone's life, take a look around, and criticize without really understanding the situation.  It was clear that all the participants on this tour were working hard to provide their animals with a good life.  I sure hope we don't have to deal with unpleasant flock dynamics.  Chickens can be real meanies.

There are many lovely hens in Alameda

We enjoyed seeing the variety of henhouses (and beehives, and rabbit hutches) in Alameda backyards.  We were particularly charmed by the neighbors who had removed their fences and were sharing their yards.

We left the tour feeling really good about the choices we've made so far. 

And we got to thinking about how much of what's taught about caring for livestock in a small-scale setting is often influenced either by the practices of large-scale factory farming, or by some weird version of folk knowledge.  When we were learning about beekeeping, much of what we read was clearly more suited to huge commercial apiaries than modest backyard set-ups.  And what wasn't coming from the point of view of agro-business, was seriously bizarre mumbo-jumbo that everyone repeated, but nobody understood. 

My favorite example of the latter was the oft-repeated "truth" that bees hate sweaters, because bees somehow associate wool with bears.  As everyone knows, wool comes from the enemy of the bee, the sheep the alpaca the acrylic factory the bear.  Likewise, we were taught that you should only wear white while working with bees, since anyone wearing black clothes must obviously be a depressed teenager a goth a bear.  Since I could never find the source of this beekeeping myth truth, I figured I needed to put it to the test, myself.  The first day we had bees, I put on my wooliest black sweater and stood next to the hive.

And you know what happened?

The bees ignored me.

Now that we're learning more and more about keeping chickens, we're having to sort out which facts are applicable to our situation, and which belong to the world of the factory farm.   With a community of urban chicken-keepers to guide us, we hope our hens have happy lives in our East Oakland backyard.


Kurious Jo said...

There's so much to learn about chickens. And, like you say, so much of it is the dynamics of the chickens themselves. Life with a rooster is whole new angle and it's somewhat fascinating.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Roosters are illegal here. We live in a densely populated city, and don't wish to antagonize the neighbors. Anyway, we don't need fertilized eggs, since we don't plan on expanding our flock.

Stefaneener said...

And beekeepers are such a bizarre bunch too that any information you get in person is really weird. Glad you got to see some good stuff.

I would have killed that hen, myself. . .

Martha said...

We are having some problem with feather picking here. More to come!

Noreen said...

Beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.

But I do think that your photography is beautiful. And as for chickens--well, they are more interesting critters than I gave them credit for.


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