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Monday, August 23, 2010

Practical Tap-Dancing Chickens in My Yard

For months I have observed my hens scratch, step, and peck to find their food. I sat entranced, watching when it became obvious their movements were much like a choreographed dance.


One day, all four hens were in unison, doing exactly the same “dance steps” to the same tempo. Their rhythm is intoxicating. I feel mesmerized as I sit in the cool greenness of my yard, gently swaying in the yard swing, observing their dance. It’s almost as if nothing but the hens and I exist. They dance and I am the appreciative audience.

In tap terms, this is how hens search.--Hen Dance

Done slowly and leisurely or quickly and with energy

L brush back, (scritch sound)

L step in place

R brush back (scritch sound)

R step in place

L back step

R back step

Peck, peck, peck

Repeat, ad infinitum

Variations can include two R brush backs (spanks) before the step back, two L brush backs (spanks), anything that seems expeditious to get to the bugs.

Occasionally look around to see who else seems to be having luck, especially when you hear a slight sound emitted that sounds like a signal for bugs or success. Run over to the good bug spot and start the dance over.

Repeat from the beginning, all day long.

Okay. When the dancing is over, my hens then wander about the yard pecking grass. Whoever said they keep down weeds forgot to mention that they do also take the grass and scratch up bulbs, too. I watched my four hens one day for about 30 minutes when they were close enough to me to see exactly what they were eating…green stuff.

Let me tell you—they do love St. Augustine Grass. The weird thing is—they never eat it right after it is mowed. A few days later, they take a snip here and a snip there, walking all over the yard—step, snip, step, snip. Their beaks are very good at snipping off an inch or so. Some days, they spend an hour just snipping grass. These are the days when they have spent at least forty-five minutes doing their chicken dance—hunt, scratch, peck.

There are often days when I sit and swing and muse about chickens. There are so many unanswered questions. How long have chickens been doing their dance with the step, snip variation? Since these hens have never known a mother or seen another chicken other than chicks and themselves, all their actions are instinctive.

Reared without a mother to guide them, they instinctively know how to get food—pecking, snatching, and running with food has been their life since I brought them home. I just marvel at the instinctive nature of their survival. Most animals with which I have the most contact have mothers to protect and feed them until they can feed on their own and evade predators.

Chickens don’t have a very present mother the way many of us raise them in our back yards. But, just watching their dance causes me to wonder every day. They come into this world prepared to find food. They instinctively dance for their food. And, they all know the same steps.

Could this be the latest Chicken Dance? Do your chickens tap dance, too?



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