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Rediscovering AnimalsĀ 

Conversations with Ms. Khaki

Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell are expecting August 5. She has a beautiful nest, a perfect circle of straw and eight handsome green eggs in the nest box, where they are safe from everyone but my daily spraying with a fine mist from the outside-pen access door. (The humidity in the southwest has been very low lately, so the inner membrane on the eggs can be too tough for a chick or duckling to break through.)

I've had to pen up Gwendolyn the hen, for she is determined to contribute to the nest and can hop a four foot chicken wire divider. Ms. Khaki moves over without a struggle to let the hen lay, but she stays a bit longer than the duck would like, so she's happy when I remove her friend, who also lays eggs of green. (Good thing they're smaller and a different shade, since Ms. Khaki supplies eggs for a young girl allergic to chicken eggs.)

We don't have many insects here in this dry country, but somehow the red worms find the spilled water under the water dishes, which become an occasional treat for Ms. Khaki. When she hears me doing the morning chores, she comes out of the nest box and heads directly for the chicken wire divider to look me in the eye and ask for some red worms, please. It's a quiet but insistent series of eighth-note quacks. "Okay," I say, and I lift off the water dish to see if any worms have dug themselves into the wet soil. Sure enough, if a few days have gone by, there they are, so I dig some up and toss them to the waiting mother-to-be. (This is her first brood.) She and Mr. Campbell gobble them up, and she comes back to the divider asking for more. I look. "No more today," I say, holding my hands open to confirm the English, and Ms. Khaki turns around, takes another drink of water and heads back to the nest for the day--until she hears me again in the afternoon, when she comes to the fence to ask politely for a snack of her favorite treat, iceberg lettuce. (She was raised on it, but I've convinced her that Honey Dew melon rinds are nearly as good.)

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Depression and Treats

Little Bear Turkey

How do you restore a hen lost in depression--not eating, not getting enough calcium to lay an egg, not returning to the pen with the others for the afternoon treat? Expensive mealy worms are not working. Maybe melon rind laced with crushed calcium pills or dripped onto fresh corn husks?

No worries. There seems to be relief in routine--finding the surrogate hen mother's socks to peck, up there on the porch, where she's typing out some ideas for a book trailer. For sure there is lots of relief in the daily excursion out of the pen to explore the half acre, scratching for goodies with endless optimism--a lesson for us all. Turkey doesn't do depression; she gets territorial for no good reason, but only with me, never with Don, over which she moons whenever he goes outside.

Turkey's favorite treats, bar none, are the seeds from Honey Dew melon and apple cores. Lucy Goose won't touch fruit, but turkey will try a little. Ms. Kahki the duck was raised on lettuce treats, so nothing else will do. The chickens will do anything, except onion, banana peels and citrus.

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