Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A plot uncovered

Several of the hens had been acting very odd lately.  They spent much of their time in the coop, over in the corner where there was a small space between the end of the nesting boxes and the wall.  When any of the other hens approached them, one would split off from the group and blather on about absolutely nothing until the other hen left with an aching brain. 

Sheila had been keeping an eye on this group.  As the alpha hen (if there were such a thing) she felt that flock cohesion and discipline was her responsibility.  They were all younger hens, jennies that been hatched and raised on the farm.  Initially she had thought it was just one of those age things –younger hens who felt intimidated by the more mature members of the flock, but she wasn’t sure of that any more.  They didn’t seem at all intimidated when one of the older hens approached them. 

She’d tried talking to them a few times herself, and she got ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘oh, you’re so right, ma’am’, which should have been an ego-boost if she thought they were sincere.  They didn’t seem, well, respectful.  It was more as if they were just agreeing to get rid of her. 

So, this morning, Sheila decided it was time to find out what the other hens thought of this odd situation.  She quietly spoke to each of them, asking them to meet her out at the roost in a little while.  She didn’t want to alert the little clique, if that was what it was. 

As one by one the hens left the coop, Sheila watched the small group in the corner.  One left the coop and Sheila watched through the doorway as she ate a bit of feed and then returned to her friends.  They were having a low-voiced conversation, but she couldn’t hear a word they were saying. 

When the last of the older hens had left the coop Sheila remarked to no one in particular, “It’s too nice a day to be inside.  I’m going to enjoy the sun.”  She made her way out of the coop and over to the roost.

Bart hadn’t consulted any of the available literature when he’d built the turkey roost.  Most any book, article or website would have told him that roosts should all be on the same level, as otherwise the turkeys will fight over the highest spots on the roost.  This flock proved that rule.  Sheila could hear them squabbling over positions as soon as she walked out of the coop. 

“This is my spot, Doris.  I always perch here.  Now you move your sorry carcass and give me my spot.” 
“Betty, you haven’t the brains of a chicken.  You perch over there.”  Doris gestured with her beak.
“I need sun, and you’re blocking the sun with your fat turkey breast.”  That was Penny.  She was just rude. 
“So sit on the ground, lard butt.  No one will block the sun if you’re on the ground.”  Kiki was even ruder than Penny, if that was possible.

“Ladies!  Although I hesitate to call you that from the way you are acting.”  Every head swiveled to look at Sheila.  “We need to have a serious discussion, and this squabbling must stop NOW!” 

The hens who had been arguing shot mean looks at each other, but did quiet down.  “In order to eliminate any argument about position on the roost, you all need to come down here on the ground.  Circle around me, so that we can talk softly.  I don’t want those youngsters to hear us.”

The hens grumbled among themselves.  All of them knew the real reason Sheila had said this.  She was too heavy to fly to even a low perch, her inflated ego would not allow her address them from the ground when they were in a higher position.  Turkeys, like chickens, had a specific pecking order, and Sheila considered herself the top hen.  Since she had a wicked sharp beak and didn’t hesitate to use it on the others, she had earned that rank.

They hopped, fluttered or flew down to the ground, depending on how high on the roost they had been perched and clustered around Sheila.  “Now, I think those young hens are up to no good.  I want to know everything you’ve heard them talking about.  I don’t care how innocent it sounded.  Perhaps if we put together everything we’ve heard we can get an idea as to what they’re up to.  Spill!”

The hens looked at each other.  Pecking order also ruled who spoke first in a group, and no one wanted to speak out of turn and get speared by a beak for their hastiness.  “Well, I’ve heard them talk about how they don’t see why we mature hens get the best places on the roost.”  That was Doris.  Although she wasn’t a mean fighter, the other hens deferred to her because of her intelligence.  “They also don’t like it when we take the best nesting boxes.”

“Pah – twaddle!  It is nothing more than our due.  They’re barely past being jennies, what do they expect.”  Sheila fluffed her feathers, not liking even this second-hand challenge to her status.

“Sheila, you asked to know everything they’ve said.  We can’t get upset by it or we’ll never figure out if they are up to anything.  Personally, I think they’re just young beings who are trying to figure out their place in the world.”  Doris tried to be rational and deferential at the same time, and succeeded rather well at it.

“Oh, all right.  We’ll just listen.  Who else has heard anything?”  Sheila settled her feathers and looked around.

Lydia, one of the first hens that had been hatched on the farm, spoke up.  “One of them said that they didn’t want to live on a farm where they were not allowed to raise their poults, and the others agreed with her.” 

Mariel, a striking Jersey Buff/Holland White cross agreed with Lydia.  “They was saying anywhere you can’t have your poults isn’t worth living at.  Maybe they gonna off themselves?”  Mariel had more feathers than brains, but Sheila thought she might have a point. 

“Oh, dear.  I can’t imagine turkeys not wanting to live!  Our lives are so full, well except for not having poults.  We have a beautiful run, an architecturally, um, unique roost and as much food as we could ever want.  I’m sure this isn’t the case, Mariel.”  Sheila was horrified.  Turkeys should not even have thoughts like that.  There were enough things that happened to shorten their lives – wild animals, disease, and the desire for a turkey dinner – that they should all enjoy their lives to the fullest.

Doris, ever the voice of reason broke into Sheila’s monologue.  “There is a much more logical explanation for those remarks, ladies.  The hens didn’t say they didn’t want to live.  They don’t want to live somewhere they can’t raise poults.  They’re planning a massive breakout, and become feral turkeys.  There are parks and undeveloped bits of land all over Millstone.  They probably feel that they’d be better off somewhere like that so they can hatch every egg they lay.  Even if they have to contend with wild animals and finding their own food, at least they’d know they had their poults.”

Everyhen spoke up at once.  “Preposterous!”  “They wouldn’t dare!”  “The idea!” “Dumb clucks.” 

Sheila screeched for silence.  “No matter how ungrateful and ridiculous this may seem, I think Doris is right.  It’s the only answer that makes sense.  So what are we going to do about this?  Do we just let them go?  Do we stop them?  And how would we stop them anyway?”  Sheila felt her authority challenged by Doris’ superior intelligence, and tried to regain control of the group. 

“I do have an idea.  I think I should tell them that we know what they’re planning, and that for all of our sakes they should abandon it.  We turkeys need to stick together, and we can appeal to their breed pride.  Plus, she said slyly, if they leave on their own, they won’t be laying fertile eggs forever, you know.” 

Sheila looked out and saw every hen bobbing her head in agreement.  That was the trump card.  She’d just walk up to those jenny-come-latelies and let them know the score.  “So, are we in agreement, girls?”  When no one dissented, Sheila headed back to the coop.

As she entered, the young hens stopped a spirited conversation and looked up at her.  “I want you girls to know that we know exactly what you are up to, and you might want to consider just one important fact.   It takes a tom to get a poult, so think twice about your plan.  Sheila marched off, well she waddled off and the young hens stared at her in utter confusion.  Did she think they were stupid?  Of course they knew that.  They shook their heads and went back to their discussion, but with lowered voices.  

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