Monday, November 24, 2008

Late night peep show

When it comes to animals and how they work, chickens are a pretty basic model. They like food and dirt. Daylight = awake. Darkness = asleep. Unfortunately, their egg-makers are also controlled by daylight. So as the days get shorter up here around the 48th parallel, which I think also goes through places like Maine and Mongolia, we’re getting fewer eggs per capita (hey, “capita” means “heads” in Latin, so it still applies even if they’re chicken heads). We’re, uh, also just getting fewer eggs overall.

After extensive Internet research to verify that this practice is in no way harmful to the chickens, we decided to artificially extend their daylight hours by having a light bulb turn on inside their coop just as the sun is setting. Every morning I put a portable, rechargeable battery pack outside with a timer to a bulb inside their coop, and the bulb turns on for a couple of hours.

There is one pretty hilarious problem with this brilliant solution, which is the aforementioned “basic model” issue. For our chickens, I will add a couple more equations. Daylight = outside. Darkness = inside. Put all of the equations together, and you get a cluster of confused cluckers.

The first day we turned the light bulb on, the girls went inside when the sun set, as they always do. But when they got inside, they discovered that it was daylight. So, they turned around and went outside. But when they got outside, they discovered that it was dark. So, they turned around and went inside. I think you see where I’m going with this.

This pacing and milling around in the doorway of the coop lasted no less than 15 minutes that first day. We’re not here most days when the bulb turns on, but yesterday, a good week or so after we first introduced the bulb, there was still some general confusion during this transition for at least five minutes.

Of course we have no way of tapping into the minds of our hens, but it certainly seems as though they are understimulated once they decide to stay inside their brightly lit coop. First, they eat their chicken feed and probably take a few swigs of water (we can see a little bit of this activity through the chicken door). Eventually, they end up on their perches, where they all preen together. And then they look really, really bored.

Fortunately, the windows of the coop only face us and our neighbors, so only our immediate neighbors have to wonder what the hell it is the crazy ladies are doing providing electric lighting for their poultry.

The good news is that egg production is up.