Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Hen Chronicles: Believe it or not, hens have personalities


On April 21, 2012, my wife Liz and I - chicken neophytes - bought three laying hens, who set up shop in a coop in the backyard of our city lot here in Maine. The makeup of our small flock has changed since then, but not our love of chickens. The Hen Chronicles explore life with our tenants.

For those among you who may still believe that chickens have no personalities, here's more proof to the contrary.

Dawn is the best time to feed the hens. But as the days have grown shorter, it keeps getting pushed back, from 5:30 to 6, then 6:30, and now 7. Being an early riser, I've sometimes grown impatient. That's why I've occasionally found myself heading out to the coop to release and feed our three hens a few minutes before the sun came up. 

Chickens peg their lives to the rising and setting of the sun. Like clockwork, they go to bed promptly at dusk and get up predictably at dawn. If left to their own devices, our hens would continue to roost in the coop until daylight roused them. So "the girls" weren't quite awake yet when I showed up early.

By rushing their wake-up call a bit, I tampered with the natural order of things. Two of the hens didn't seem to mind my hurry-it-up routine. But the third one was another matter.

Here's how it played out. I placed food and water in the pen and then opened the coop door while it was still somewhat dark outside. Snow, our take-charge Plymouth Rock, was game. When she heard me rustling around outside with the chicken feed, she woke up and hopped down from the roost. Snow emerged as soon as I opened the door, despite the early-morning gloom. Nellie, one of our two Rhode Island Reds, followed a minute or two later.

Eventually, Hope made an appearance as well, but not quickly, and not without trepidation.

Snow and Nellie immediately tucked into their breakfast. But Hope, whose role model is Chicken Little, stood stock still in the pen, making a mournful, high-pitched trilling sound. She continued to do this until dawn finally broke, at which point her obvious fear of the dark evaporated and she joined the other hens in chowing down.

Out of respect for Hope's tender sensibilities, I'm now timing my early-morning arrivals more carefully. After all, no one should hop out of bed fearing what the new day will bring.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Tom Toles

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fine Lines: N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and the New York Daily News

Fine Lines takes a look at headlines from the tabloids. Not the supermarket rags, but real newspapers, such as the Boston Herald, the New York Post, and the Philadelphia Daily News, that serve up the news with a touch of brass. A clever or pointed tabloid headline is a thing of beauty (or at least a heck of a lot of fun), especially if it involves wit and wordplay.

The New York Daily News didn’t take too kindly to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s recent complaint about efforts to raise the minimum wage. Christie told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce summit in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday: "I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage. I really am." Describing Christie’s bank account and "his rear end" as "well-padded," the newspaper reported that Christie and his wife raked in $700,000 last year.

NY_DN.jpg

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Tom Toles

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Jeff Danziger

American Civil War: 150 years ago today on October 19, 1864


The Civil War, 1861-1865
October 19, 1864



A stunning Union victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia helps solidify public support for President Abraham Lincoln and wins Gen. Philip H. Sheridan lasting fame.

Lt. Bennet H. Young and 20 Confederates slip across the Canadian border and attack three banks in St. Albans, Vermont, shooting two citizens, one fatally. The attackers seize $20,000, torch several buildings and recross the border, but a Union posse catches the raiders in Canada and turns them over to authorities for extradition to the U.S.


Information from the Civil War Almanac, by John C. Fredriksen (Checkmark Books) 
Illustration: detail from the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston honoring the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Hen Chronicles: The worm toss queen has been dethroned


On April 21, 2012, my wife Liz and I - chicken neophytes - bought three laying hens, who set up shop in a coop in the backyard of our city lot here in Maine. The makeup of our small flock has changed since then, but not our love of chickens. The Hen Chronicles explore life with our tenants.

There's always a risk of anthropomorphizing the behavior of animals, by interpreting their antics in human terms.

Maybe that's what I did in this case, but I don't think so.

I was mucking around in our compost bins the other day, shoveling out compost for the garlic bed, which we'll be planting at the end of the month. Both bins are located next to our chicken coop. (Yup -- that's where the chicken poop ends up.) In the course of my digging, I found a fat worm. I knew it would make a great snack for one of "the girls."

I tossed the worm toward the pen, where it landed on top of the chicken wire that covers the frame. Snow, our eagle-eyed Plymouth Rock, jumped up, grabbed the dangling end of the worm in her beak, and pulled it down into the pen.

This was par for the course. Snow always is the first to spot an incoming worm, lunging for it with lightning speed. Usually in these situatios, she manages to wolf down her treat before Nellie and Hope, our Rhode Island Reds, figure out what's going on. When it comes to the worm toss, Snow is the undisputed champ.

Or was.

Nellie brought her A game to the pen that day. She stole the worm from Snow, triggering a scrimmage that involved much flapping of wings. It continued until Nellie -- I wouldn't belive it if I hadn't seen it -- swallowed Snow's worm!

After the prize disappeared down Nellie's gullet, Snow's eyes grew larger than I've ever seen them. She looked around in amazement. Then she began squawking. A lot. And loudly. This wasn't mere clucking, but a throaty cry of outrage and desperation. It was, I'm convinced, her way of asking the obvious question: "What the hell just happened here?"

Nellie, the new champ