• Their Appetites are Appalling and Amusing

    by Rebecca Bresnick Holmes

    Oh joy.

    Today was the day I clean the yard, change the straw in the coop, and try to get the woodchips back into the garden beds. It’s hot and dirty and not fun, but it feels good when it’s all finished. Actually, I think I prefer it to housecleaning.

    I find filling the feeders satisfying and was excited to give the chickens a new batch of scratch that I got from a local feed store. It’s a different kind than we’ve been using and I was curious to see whether they’d like it. I gave them some by hand and they ate it right up.

    There’s something about feeding animals and watching them eat that’s very entertaining and captivating. At the Sacramento Zoo several years ago, my children and I watched the hippo (may she rest in peace) feast on a pumpkin.

    Interestingly, it took about 20 minutes and was truly fascinating. My boys were completely transfixed the entire time and didn’t fight, whine, or ask when we were moving on to the next animal. More recently, we fed and watched the giraffes eat eucalyptus leaves – again – fascinating.

    That experience is somewhat replicated in my backyard. It’s fun to watch the chickens eat and I’m surprised by what they like and don’t like. They love corn on the cob – really love it! I was shocked to learn that they didn’t like sunflower heads filled with seeds still, even though I showed them the seeds and how to pick them out. They like crushed up egg shells, cantaloupe seeds, meat, eggs (!?!) and especially spaghetti (with sauce), but they don’t like apples, bananas or broccoli.

    The chickens’ waterer sits on a large upside-down ceramic dish. While changing the water, something possessed me to turn over the dish and horrifyingly, there were slugs underneath; huge, slimy, fat, disgusting slugs.

    As I was trying not to gag, Hester came over and before I could even formulate a thought about what she might do, she pecked at them. Ick ick and more ick. I nearly gagged. I know chickens like snails and slugs and disgusting things like that, but honestly, it turned my stomach. I couldn’t help it.

    The other hens came over because Hester was making all these “Wow, look what I found!” noises, and then they all started pecking at the slugs. Except for Gertie, who clearly is more refined than the other hens and has better taste. It seems she doesn’t care for slugs.

    The slugs were so big and plump that the chickens couldn’t just pick them up and swallow them whole – they had to pick at them and it was like a car accident… it was sickening to watch, and yet I was compelled to continue. Finally, most of the slugs were distributed and each hen tromped off with her slug to work on in private. I went back in the house to put my head between my knees.

    After I’d recovered, I was watching the chicks, which are not nearly as disgusting in their eating habits. Somehow, without having ever seen a hen take a dirt bath, they are starting to engage in this kind of activity, except that they do it in their food dish. They take these “dirt baths” in the chick feed.

    It’s pretty funny – they plop themselves down, scuttle around a bit, fluff their tiny wing buds, and kind of throw the feed up onto themselves (and all over the place). Consequently, they have food on their backs. It looks like baby chick dandruff and yet it turned out to be a convenient way for them to have a snack.

    At one point, they were all lined up in a half-circle and one chick was pecking the food scraps off of another chick’s back, and that chick was pecking the food off the third chick’s back. It was like those getting-to-know-each-other, campfire circle exercises where everyone massages the shoulders of the person to their left so that everyone gets a massage, except the last chick had to peck the food off the ground instead of a nice fluffy chick back.

      • Judy

      • June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am
      • Reply

      I love being this close up to the chickens, although not quite enough to want to own them. Thanks for exposing us to the wonder in small things.

    • This doesn’t make me want to have them, but I sure do like eating them. But I only go organic and grain fed. Somehow knowing what they really like to eat makes me want to throw up as well.

      • Jesse

      • June 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm
      • Reply

      I love my chickens. I have had chickens for about 15 years. They are great composters, comedians, and producers. I just love mine. I think I love the eggs even more!

      • Debbie

      • June 27, 2011 at 10:13 am
      • Reply

      I’ll bet chickens would think that a lot of what we eat is gross, too, if chickens thought about that kind of stuff.

      I have always thought that if there were a way to discreetly market cat poop flavored dog food, I could become a rich woman.

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