For the Birds

After spending two weeks inside a barn in a brooder, we moved our chicks into our chicken tractor. The outdoor elements proved quite harsh on such a young brood though, and we lost two chicks to severe winds. East Texas has experienced some incredible storms and rainfall this spring. We’re lucky we’ve only lost two birds thus far. That should make my grand total of surviving chickens equal 70. However, I apparently can’t count that high. I counted 72 chicks when they first arrived and then 73 when I first put them in the chicken tractor. My husband asked if they were multiplying. Let’s just say counting chickens is for the birds. I’ll go with 72 minus 2 equals 70 chickens, and call it good.

This chicken flew the coop when I opened the hatch to feed.

My chicks have their feathers now, so they’ve graduated to being called chickens. They are a clamorous lot and all pounce on the feeders as soon as I set them inside their pen. I’m planning to butcher them at about 11-12 weeks old, so it’ll be around early July.

Got food? Seventy chickens eye me as I approach the chicken tractor to feed.

Chickens are not the only birds we have on our farm. There are two other breeds I thought I’d mention, because I find them interesting.

When I first moved to Texas, I noticed that there always seemed to be these small white birds following around the cattle. “What are those?” I had to ask, since I’d never seen them before, and we didn’t have them in Missouri.

An egret follows around two of our calves as they graze.

I learned that they are cattle egrets. They reminded me of animal shows I’d seen of similar birds shadowing water buffalo and gazelle on the African plains, helping those wild animals by eating pests like flies. In the same way, egrets also have a symbiotic relationship with cattle. The cattle draw the flies and disturb other insects as they graze. The egrets benefit, and so do the cows. I’ve seen many times egrets actually roosting on the cows.

I wasn’t the only one new to this custom. Our three Longhorn mamas I’ve described in previous posts were brought to Texas from Missouri almost four years ago. When they first got here, they wanted nothing to do with these odd birds who would constantly be hounding them. They would use their horns to chase them away. It was funny to watch. Now-a-days, they’ve realized the egrets aren’t pests but actually reduce pests.

See what happens when you don’t knock down a barn swallow’s nest soon enough? This is on my back porch.

Speaking of pests though, I have to mention the second breed of bird that resides on our farm (and most farms) ― the barn swallow. These little nuisances are extremely persistent about building their nests in places that annoy people. We usually have at least two nests on our back porch and two on our front porch. I knock the nests down; the birds build them back. They get me back by pooping all over the porch, of course.    

Our bird-killer, barn cat stretches out on the back porch rocker.

Our barn cat thinks she’s helping with the problem by killing them and leaving their bodies by our back door. I don’t really find that helpful, but I don’t know how to break it to her. I’d rather her be killing mice in the barn, but, then again, I don’t want dead mice by my back door either.

I suppose the good thing about barn swallows though is that they eat mosquitoes. With all the rain, the mosquitoes have been horrible this year. So, you see how it all works out, right? The barn swallows eat the mosquitoes, the egrets eat the flies, and we eat the chickens.


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