Friday, November 4, 2011

A matter of numbers

Lemuel woke to a revolt in the turkey coop this morning.  He hadn’t slept well due to the cold temperatures last night and had completely missed not only sunrise this morning but several hours past it from the sounds coming from the coop.  The hens always squawked when Bart came in to collect the eggs, but this sounded more like a riot than the usual complaining.  He stood up; working out the kinks he had from sleeping all by himself in the small tom coop and headed over to see what the problem was.

“This isn’t fair!  You haven’t left us a single egg in weeks!”  That was Sheila, the spokeshen.  How are we supposed to keep up the flock if you don’t leave us any eggs to hatch?  You take one of us whenever you feel like a turkey dinner, but if you don’t leave us eggs, there won’t BE any more turkeys for dinner!”

Sheila was the most intelligent and well-spoken of the hens.  The comments from the others were things like, “Don’t you take my babies!”  “You Canaveral, you!”  “That’s cannibal, stupid, not Canaveral.” “No eggs, no turkeys!”  “I’m gonna peck your danged hands off, you murderer!”

Lemuel knew better than to try to intercede in the situation.  The hens wouldn’t listen to him, and as angry as they were, they’d probably turn on him, and at best he’d get scolded out of the coop.  At worst they’d all descend on him and peck at him – as though he was the one taking their eggs!

Bart finally came out of the coop, cradling one hand.  “Darned birds.  I don’t know why I wanted to raise these things in the first place.  Dang stupid idea it was.  I’ll be glad to see the last of them.”  He turned and saw Lemuel.  “You’re the only one here who doesn’t go nutzo on me.   Women – that’s the cause of all the problems in the world.  Hunh.  Women.”  Bart looked at the hand he was cradling – it was bleeding in several places.  He shook his head and headed towards the house with his crate of eggs.

Lemuel retreated to a sunny corner of the run.  It was pretty warm today.  He figured he’d sit and think about this for a bit and maybe if Kid came over he’d discuss it with her.  Why would the farmer be taking all the eggs?  Maybe there was a reasonable answer.

With turkeys, as with humans, prolonged thought in a warm comfortable place can lead to sleep.  Lemuel was awakened by a polite cough from Kid.  “I hope I’m not disturbing you, Lemuel.  I heard all the ruckus this morning, and wanted to make sure you were all right.  I came over as soon as I saw Bart heading out for his walk.”

“Oh, I’m fine, Kid.  It was those hens.  They were fussing at Bart because he’s been taking all of their eggs and not leaving them any to brood.  I was sitting here and thinking about why he’d be doing that, and I guess I, er, kind of dozed off.”  Lemuel hung his head.  This could be a serious situation, and what did he do?  Fall asleep.

“Well, I’m glad it wasn’t the hens deciding that you’d done something wrong again.  I was afraid I’d come over her and find your fine feathers littering the run like the last time they went after you.”  Kid shook her head.  One time the hens had blamed Lemuel when Bart started feeding them at what they thought was the wrong time, and they’d pecked him bloody, literally plucking out some of his feathers.  He’d been weeks in healing, and it had turned out to be nothing more than daylight savings time.  Those hens were a few cards short of a full deck.

“No, but it is strange.  Bart’s always left the hens with some eggs to brood.  When the chicks hatch he moves them to a broody coop with special heaters so they chicks don’t chill and die.  You know, I can’t even recall the last time I saw hens in the broody coop.  I don’t know, maybe he’d let them hatch too many and now we have too many turkeys.  That could be the answer, right, Kid?”

Kid sat and thought about that.  She tried to figure out if there were more turkeys on the farm than there’d been at other times, but wasn’t really sure.  There had been four paws of them when Bart had first introduced the hens, and after the first batch of poults were let out of the broody coop there had been a LOT of turkeys.  Since then sometimes it seemed like there were more turkeys, and some less, but Kid hadn’t tried to take a count, as the turkeys weren’t cooperative about staying in one place.  Also, it was tough to try to count them when they panicked as soon as they saw her and ran into the coop.  “That could be it, but you should ask the hens.  They’d know the best, although I doubt they keep any sort of count of their numbers.”  She sniggered.  “I don’t think they’re smart enough to do that.”

It was a good idea to ask the hens about their numbers, in Lemuel’s mind.  They could just be thinking that they wanted to brood more eggs, even if there were plenty of turkeys, even if there were more than could comfortably fit in the coop.  He just hated the idea of trying to talk to them.  They were just so…common.  Disrespectful, even.  He sighed and fluffed out his feathers.  “You’re right, kid.  I’ll talk to them as soon as they calm down a bit.  They’re always a bit on the touchy side when Bart’s just been in collecting eggs.  I can understand that, though, can’t you?  How would you feel if every time you had kittens someone took some of them and scrambled them up to make a kitten omelet?”

Kid had never had a litter of kittens, but she could imagine that it could be traumatic, although she thought that there was a qualitative difference between an egg and a kitten.  A chick and a kitten, yes.  That would be horrific.  Then again, her feelings might be tempered by her love of scrambled eggs, but she wasn’t going to tell Lemuel that.  There were just some things you didn’t share with your friends.

Lemuel was still trying to get up his nerve to go into the coop to talk to the hens when he saw Sheila and several other hens approaching him.  He stood up, fluffed his feathers and tried to look welcoming.  “Good day, ladies.  I hope you are feeling recovered from this morning’s contretemps.”

“Contrawhat?   Lemuel, I swear I can’t understand half of what you say.  You’re so high and mighty that I’m surprised your head doesn’t float off into the sky.  But, you’ve got a brain in that head, and I want you to listen to me.”  Sheila was quite a direct hen.

“Whatever I can do to help, I will.”  Lemuel decided he should keep his language simple.  No big words, no literary allusions (not that he could read, but he’d heard them from those who could).

“You must have heard us trying to talk to Bart this morning.  He’s been taking all of our eggs for ever so long, and we don’t have a single poult in the broody house.  Not only that, but most of the jennies and jakes are nigh onto full grown.  How are we supposed to keep up our flock if we don’t have poults?”

Thinking of what he’d discussed with Kid earlier, he tried to put his thoughts into words – simple words.  “Well, maybe Bart feels there are too many turkeys right now.  Perhaps he left you more eggs to brood some time ago, and he’s worried that there won’t be enough room in the coop for all the adult hens when the weather gets really cold.  You know how you don’t like it when you’re all crowded in too close.”

Sheila’s head rocked back.  She hadn’t thought of that.  “Hmmm.  I don’t know.  We did have a big load of poults we hatched in the spring, but lots of them were roosters, and you know Bart don’t want more than one rooster.  He thinks you’d all just peck each other to death.  Henny Penny – what do you think?  When all the jennies are in the house with us hens is it too crowded?”

Asking a question like this to Henny Penny was like asking a rock to do calculus.  “Hunh?  I dunno.  We fit in there just fine.  We always fit in there just fine.  So what some days last spring we were stepping on each other’s feet?  There was room for everyone.”

“Doris, what do you think?”  Sheila realized that she should probably ask this question to someone who knew the difference between feed and rocks.

“Well, we aren’t nearly as crowded as we were in early summer.  Penny is right – we were stepping on each other’s feet, but now there’s room to spare for us all.  When Bart feeds us we can all get to the feeding pans at the same time and no one has to wait.  It’s never been like that before.”  Doris obviously had a good head on her neck.

That information surprised Lemuel.  He easily recalled many days when the hens fought for space at the feeding pans and were in rows sometimes three deep trying to get to the food.  Bart hadn’t added feeding pans, so there must be fewer turkeys.  “Doris, that is a big difference.  Let me think on this a bit.  There may be something we can do, but right now I don’t know what it would be.  I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

The hens marched back to their roosts, as it was warm enough out to sun themselves.  Lemuel went to the corner of the run closest to Kid’s yard and called for her, hoping she was somewhere where she could hear him.  Within minutes, Kid loped over to where Lemuel was waiting.

“What’s up?  We better be quick, in case Bart’s around.”  Kid looked around her as she spoke, fearing the wrath of Bart.  Lemuel quickly explained what the hens had said, and asked Kid if she had any thoughts on their predicament.

“I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but let me talk to my friends.  We’re quite a diverse group, and I can probably get you some answers.  Now let me get out of here.  Take care of yourself, Lemuel.”  Kid streaked across the yard to the safety of the hedgerow.

Lemuel sat back down in the sun, although it didn’t seem as warm as it had a little while ago, and this time his thoughts didn’t lull him to sleep.  

Photo courtesy of Mossicorn Ranch -

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