World, Meet Banjo!

I have a story to tell about a chicken, and I don’t even know where to begin.
Banjo was one of our fall babies, born late in the year, even though we really didn’t need any more babies this year. But I was sad after losing Poe and just a tough year on the farm all the way around.
We needed some joy, so we let our wonderful hen, Pumpkin, raise some fall babies. She hatched three: Squash, Butternut, and Banjo. My little boy named all of them.
Banjo was a very dark, unusual looking chicken when she was born. She was so dark that she looked exactly like Poe’s last baby who didn’t make it–Andie. I posted a little about my struggle with her.
But Banjo isn’t Poe’s baby. We don’t know who Banjo’s biological mama is. She just looks like a darker version of a Welsummer, like her daddy.
Pumpkin and Her Babies
This is the best picture I could find of Banjo. This is Pumpkin with Squash, Butternut, and Banjo. Banjo is the darker chick in the back.
All of the babies we let mama hens raise are wild. They squawk and holler when I try to hold them, which always makes the mamas “turkey up,” as I call it, so I tend to just let them be. I put out fresh food and water and keep them in safe areas, and the mama hens do all the rest. The mama hens are so good at it that I try not to interfere too much.
But this means the babies are hesitant of me, and it takes me a good six months to a year to get one of our “wild babies,” as I call them, to come eat out of my hand. And no touchy. Just no touchy!
Banjo, as a baby, was extra wild. I couldn’t even get a good picture of her when she was little. But Pumpkin was an extra good mama. She mothered those babies until they were nearly 12 weeks old and almost as big as her. Still, I had very little to do with Banjo for most of her life.
But, in the last month or so, I’ve noticed that Banjo is EXTRA curious about me when I am around. This winter, I’ve been around an extra amount, and every afternoon on the cold days, I take cracked corn to the coop.
Very quickly, Banjo learned that I would feed her directly, so she started eating out of my hands. But there was something else. She would get really close to my face and study it. This is highly unusual. Highly unusual.
However, after Poe, in an effort to protect myself, I have been trying not to get so attached to our chickens. I have been on the verge of leaving farming for some months now because I am not sure if my heart can take the pain of it. So I have been trying to keep a little bit of distance–still love and care for them and treat them well and with full respect–but keep my heart held back some.
But Banjo wasn’t having it.
One day last week, I was standing in the coop feeding an older bird some cracked corn while the older gal was sitting on the top roost, and I feel this tug at my boot. But it was weird because it was this long, steady tug.
I turn around to find Banjo with the top of my boot in her beak, and she was pulling and not letting go, just like a dog pulling on your clothes. Of course, I turned around and gave her corn. In addition to eating the corn, she got right in my face and looked at me closely, like she was trying to figure me out.
I knew I was in big trouble.
But there’s more. The day before yesterday, I had to bring Banjo to the house for a quick treatment. I forgot to mention that Banjo was born with a wicked beak. It was so long, like a hawk’s, too long. Way too long. So we had to do a quick trim.
We had to do this one time before with another chicken and had no trouble. But my husband accidentally cut too close and made poor Banjo bleed.
I was like, “Really?”
She was fine overall, but this meant time in the house to heal.
Well, immediately, we were shocked at the way Banjo just made herself at home in our house. Most of our chickens are not comfortable at all in the house. Poe was pretty good, and there are a few exceptions, but most everyone else doesn’t want any part of the house. We usually keep them confined to our guest bathroom, which is also the chicken/duck hospital ward.
Not Banjo. It was like she had things to do!
She was walking around like she knew the place, checking things out, saying hello to all our humans, asking for treats. It was bizarre to me. Again, I want to emphasize this chicken was raised “wild” and had never been inside our house before.
I was absolutely taken aback at Banjo’s behavior. But she then took it to the next level.
While I was making dinner last night, I put Banjo in my husband’s office with my husband and my son. They could babysit her while I cooked. After I got my dough in the oven to rise, I took my tea and went back to the office with my husband, my son, and Banjo.
I sat on the floor and took a first drink of my tea. Banjo got really close to my face and then stood in front of me and made the drinking motion chickens make when they drink. If you have chickens, you know it well. They lean down to the water, scoop it up, hold their heads back, and make this kind of gurgle motion. It’s the universal drink motion of a chicken. This is the motion Banjo made for me–like we were playing charades!
I said some swear words.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! So I got up to go get her some water, trying to remain skeptical.
“If this chicken is thirsty and drinks a bunch of water, I’m going to lose my mind,” I said out loud.
Guess what?
I took a small bowl of water to Banjo, and she stood there and drank for a good five minutes! That chicken was thirsty and communicated it with me!
I’m freaking out about this.
My husband says, “Well, I guess she was letting you know she wanted a drink.”
“I guess so!” I say.
Later, that night, I found Banjo sitting on the of my chair behind my husband watching what he was watching what he was watching on the computer screen.
All of this is both amazing and terrible to me. We can’t keep a house chicken, though I am tempted. But, this morning, our local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, ran a story about the health dangers of keeping a chicken in the house.
So, today, as Banjo was all healed up, I took her back to the coop. She did alright; clearly, she’s smart. Plus, her sister, Butternut, was kind of lost without her, so I was glad for those two to be back together. But I spent a lot of time in the coop today, and Banjo spent a lot of time at my feet.
I don’t know where this story is going to take me. Right now, as I write this, I feel certain it is going to take me straight to some epic heartache.
But I can’t deny Banjo is special. I think she might be a game changer.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, isn’t she beautiful?
Banjo in the House


On Spoiling Chickens

“If it’s possible to ruin a chicken in such a way, I’m sure you’ll do it.”

These are the words my husband spoke to me after I told him a story in which I was worried I was maybe spoiling our chickens a little too much.

Here’s what has happened of late:

Each morning, before I collect eggs, the chicky girls get a bagel, and it can be tricky to get 17 chickens to be “fair” when it comes to bites of bagel. I developed a system where I throw exactly 12 pieces into the middle of the chicken run, and while about 10 or 12 girls head to eat those, a handful hangout with me, knowing I will drop some at my feet for them. This plan has been working well for almost a year.

But I think the “spoiledness” reached new heights a couple of weeks ago. The girls who hang out at my feet for bagel bites will squawk at me until they get a bite of bagel, and I noticed that a couple of girls just kept squawking and looking at me hopefully, even though I had dropped bites of bagel on the ground right in front of them.

It looked like they wanted me to feed them directly, so I tried that. Guess what? It’s what they wanted!

But, then, because chickens are copy cats, like 3 or 4 other girls wanted the same treatment, so I was trying to get bites of bagels into beaks as quickly as I could and trying not to get my fingers pinched.

Thankfully, after about a week of this routine, the girls are now really good at aiming for bagel only and not my fingers, and it’s pretty adorable to see these girls jumping up like little chicken basketball players to get their bites out of my fingers. But, the sad reality is that I think our girls might be too spoiled.

This morning, I think things reached a new level. Today, I had about 6 or 7 little chicky girls, in a line, jumping up one at a time to get her bagel bite. The girls took turns, jumped up like little basketball-playing chickens, flapped their wings once for each jump, and looked so adorable I almost couldn’t believe it.

I have no idea how this just happened, but if I can get this to happen again (tomorrow, I am going to try to get my husband to film this), I have decided that I might need to take this show on the road—“Crystal and Her Amazingly Spoiled Chickens.”

image of chickens in coop
These were our girls in the coop this morning in the morning light after our little circus performance. They are so beautiful I don’t know how to not spoil them.

Still, my husband’s comment about how I will find a way to spoil animals as well as my experiences this week really got me to thinking about how this is happening. I mean, it would be much easier for me if these girls would just eat their bagel bites off of the ground. Is it okay that these girls are this spoiled?

So I spent a couple of weeks mulling this over, and after much thought about my thinking, I realized what might be at the root of my track record with spoiled animals.

If an animal is smart enough to communicate with me, an animal of a completely different species, its wants and needs, I feel it is important to reward such intelligence and skills. And, since science is proving all the time that animals are way smarter than people thought, smarter than I thought, I find myself with a lot of spoiled animals.

I will continue my reading on animal intelligence and maybe have to rethink my philosophy about how I approach our animals and their level of intelligence. I don’t think I have been giving them enough credit, and I had better do something. We have 8 more little girls growing up right now, and if I have to feed 25 chicky girls grapes and bagels individually, that’s going to be a job!

But I have to say that my husband is not a complete innocent here. One night this week, I caught him out in the garage with the baby girls. He was whistling a sweet tune to them and giving them the meal worms he bought from the pet store with each little baby jumping up to take a worm from his fingers. Indeed!

This is one of the baby girls now. I call this the "awkward teenage week" when they have some feathers but some fuzz. Still, they are cute beyond all reason, right?
This is one of the baby girls now. I call this the “awkward teenage weeks” when they have some feathers but some baby fluff as well. Still, they are cute beyond all reason, right? And, it’s really soon to tell for sure, but I think they may even be smarter than our first babies. These girls are ISA Browns–a cross between Rhode Island Reds, which we have already, and Rhode Island Whites.

It’s all coming together for me. I might know the root of the “feed me individual bites” thing. It’s not going to be easy not spoiling those chickens. Maybe I just need to be okay with spoiling them.