Sunday, August 16, 2015

Animal behavior

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why animals do what they do.  However, sometimes the animals make me wonder about my own behavior.  

For instance:  Two of the three foster calves that nurse Penny-the-cow, the ones I call the two brownies (after a certain number of named calves, my creativity goes out the window and I call them whatever comes to mind) suck on one another after they leave the cow's udder.  Sometimes they suck faces, and other times they go head-to-tail and nurse where an udder would be, if steers had udders.  A year ago I thought calves who nurse a cow, rather than a bottle, wouldn't suck on one another; that theory has flown out the window.  

In bottle calves, this sucking behavior is so common that in large dairies, the calves are kept separated to prevent it; actually, as long as we are talking about two steer calves, it's harmless.  You don't want a young heifer to be nursed on because it can cause damage to her future udder, but I don't know of any dire consequences in the case of steers.

If I leave the two steer calves alone to serve as pacifiers for one another, they will stop after five or ten minutes, start grazing, and not even think about sucking again until they are put with the cow twelve hours later.  But I don't do this, because years of trying to prevent this behavior just will not allow me to let them get their little suck-fest over and go on their separate ways.

So I chase one into a different pen with the other calves and leave the other in the small pen by himself to get over it, which he does.  This makes absolutely no sense at all; the only thing accomplished is that I take many extra steps that I should be avoiding to spare my knees.


And then there's the hen house.  I think everyone has heard the term "pecking order", which is based on chicken behavior:  A new character introduced into the chicken household is shunned, picked (or pecked) on brutally, and has to run for her life.  Chickens that free range will eventually learn to get along, and there is plenty of room for the innocent newcomer to hide in the big, wide world.  However, chickens confined to a house and pen are at risk of being killed.

Recently a neighbor got rid of her flock, but somehow one hen was overlooked when the buyers came to pick them up.  The neighbor called and asked if I wanted the hen.  I didn't need her, but sure, I'll take a hen that's laying.  I had been letting my chickens out in the evening, but they were ruining too many tomatoes in a garden that has been very stingy with tomatoes this year, so I grounded them and confined them to the house and pen.  I tossed the new Leghorn in with the others.  

As expected, the newcomer was attacked, but not, as I had expected, by the other hens.  As long as the stranger kept some distance from them, the other hens pretty much left her alone.  But the one character in the flock who had the most to gain from a new hen, the rooster, wouldn't leave her alone for a minute.  No, he didn't make mad, passionate love to her, which is what I would have expected from the male of a polygamous species.  I don't know if he figured he needed to assert his authority as leader of the pack or what, but he forced her to take refuge beneath the hen house, where she spent her first couple of days before I took action.  Perhaps things would have eventually worked out, but I had Cliff put an end to the barbaric behavior by killing the rooster.  This was no great loss to me, since there are four young roosters waiting in the wings to fertilize eggs next year, should I want to let the settin' hen raise more babies.  

Well, there you have it, my musing for the week.  It's all I've got today.


Paula said...

It is fun to try to figure them out why they think a certain way and why they do it. I'm not around chickens but I love how the cows have different personalities.

Margaret said...

Human behavior is a mystery to me, so the animal kingdom is even more so. You can make a nice coq au vin with that rooster. ;)

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

Life is a mystery for sure. Whether it is humans or animals. No figuring it out it seems, just about the time we have them figured out something new happens. I've given up trying, but do pray a lot.

Sister--Three said...

I so enjoy your thoughts. I got a new rooster from Patsy before she passed. My rooster was about 10 years old. Sigrid asked about he old one and I said he died. Finally, I told her with a little help from me. I think she thought I was a cruel old woman, but life on a farm and growing up that way makes us different I guess. I asked Sigrid...should I have just let the young rooster peck the old worn out one to death? I really don't have an answer to my own question, but I would say most farmers take action. Sometimes it does not turn out perfect, but they do something!