are chickens smarter than humans

‘Fort Knox” we could call it: the double-walled high security compound with its exercise area surrounded by wire mesh and an electric…

‘Fort Knox” we could call it: the double-walled high security compound with its exercise area surrounded by wire mesh and an electric bear fence, out in the middle of nowhere.

Clucking and cackling periodically erupts from its depths.

Keeping backwoods chickens safe from the leagues of marten, fisher, ermine, lynx and bear is not an easy feat, yet our pressing concern these days is how to make young pullets lay.

Having had to replace our trusty old flock of hens with new ones this summer, we are now trying to coax and trick these young gals into laying eggs even though the diminishing daylight hours and temperatures tell them otherwise.

Months without a chance of getting in fresh groceries for us are looming ahead, so the pressure is on.

You’d think outwitting chickens would be an easy thing but it’s proving not to be so.

Maybe not much of a compliment for our own mental state and intelligence…

I used to make fun of Sam’s daily coffee hand-grinding routine, but now I join him with the wind-up LED lantern that extends the daylight hours to a springtime schedule for the chickens (theoretically highly conducive for egg production).

One nice thing about the wind-up lantern is that it eliminates the need for late night trips to the chicken coop to turn out the light, since I can time how long it will stay on by how much I crank it.

And much better than having to recharge batteries with the generator — with a wind-up radio also on order, we will soon have eliminated our need for rechargeable AA and AAA batteries (and possibly develop arm muscles of scary proportions).

As we sit and crank our respective coffee and light machinery, I wistfully think how great it would be to have a wind-up laptop or, better yet, a stationary bike for charging up batteries in the winter when the solar panel falls short of providing enough power.

Somebody more mechanically talented than us could probably rig that up no problem — who knows, with the right marketing scheme it might even appeal to people who don’t live off the grid.

Life in the bush in the second millennium is, for us at least, a strange and sometimes uneasy marriage of the old (outdoor plumbing and oil lamps) and the very new (voice over IP and satellite internet).

The recharged lantern in hand, I walk over to the squat chicken coop: it’s only a bit over a metre tall to help along that spring-time feeling by conserving the chickens’ heat.

Rabbit, mice and ermine tracks dot the snow along the way. In the quiet of winter in the bush, when animal life is limited to such few hardy year-round species, I often enjoy sitting with the bustling hens whose busybody attitude is somehow cheering.

Although these days, some eggs would cheer me up more, to be honest.

In the greenhouse I gather a mixture of dry leaves, sawdust, moss and hay into an empty feedbag to add to the already composting chicken coop litter.

It amazingly creates a bit of heat, saves us the mucking out in wintertime and makes great compost.

Carefully, I enter the chicken house: the hens are always intensely curious about the big door and what might lie behind it (mostly weasels and lynx waiting for chickens), and sometimes try to squeeze out.

The feed bucket is instantly mobbed by the hens and as I distribute the feed and refill the water, much shoving and pecking ensues as they jockey for position. If only they would start laying eggs with half the fervour that they show for eating!

We might have got them a bit too late in the summer.

Physically, they should be ready to lay eggs now, but despite our best efforts with compost floor heating, a south-facing window, the LED light show and the mild November weather this year, their bodies may not be convinced that it is a good time of the year to get into egg production.

Scolding them for being such poor producers and greedy consumers, I throw in the leaves and hay mixture, hang the lantern and barricade them in for the night.

Somehow, fooling chickens is much harder than I thought!

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.