Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shakira! Shakira! Our chicken.

(posted by Polly)

So, about Shakira.   
(Pics have been put up on Facebook – easier to load than here.)
Shakira’s our chicken here a site. We purchased her one sunny day at the market for her ability to provide eggs, though it seems she had other ideas in mind. 
We waited a good month before Shakira laid her first egg.  Apparently we bought her a bit young.  She spent her first day getting used to our veranda, then three days on a rope (leashed to her foot) experiencing the downstairs outside.  She attracted a lot of attention during those three days from our local coming-of-age rooster, Foghorn (at least that’s what we call him).  Foghorn sat with Shakira for those three days on a small woodpile adjacent to our house, and kept her good company. 
On day four of outside time, Shakira was allowed to roam free.  Foghorn was beside himself with excitement, and was at our home crowing and dancing for her at 5:45am.  That morning he introduced Shakira to his other lover and their young chicks.  After just a few jealous attacks aimed at Shakira’s neck and back, the two ladies made fast friends.  For weeks the three amigos (and chicks) scratched and pecked every inch of land within a stone’s throw of our house.  They even ventured out to farther off fields, but never for long.  Whenever thirsty, they’d visit our outdoor water tap and drink up run-off from dishes, laundry (mmmm, soapy), and overflowed buckets of our drinking water. 
At 5:30pm sharp every evening, Foghorn would escort Shakira back to our house and call to us until we’d open the door and let her up the steps to our second story veranda.  Shakira had no trouble hopping up each steep step on her own (very cute, I’d say) and making it to her food pile and water for dinner.  She’d vigorously peck at rice, peanuts, and sometimes corn, littering our veranda with shrapnel.  Between gulps of food she’d break to drink her water, spill her water (by stepping on the side of the bowl), and crap two or three more times before deciding it was time to jump in her bed right at 6pm.  Within minutes, our veranda would transform into something like the floor of an over-run Perdue chicken barn.
During her second month here, Shakira came home with a serious head wound.  Somehow we didn’t notice at first…probably because she wasn’t making a scene over it.  She only made it halfway up our stairs that evening and sat waiting for me as I fetched water for the night and stepped over her several times.  Sometimes she’d sit on our steps before dinner, so we didn’t find it very unusual.  I grabbed her to carry her up to the veranda and saw that the skin on the top of her head was slit from one side to the other, right down to the bone!  A really bad cut!  There wasn’t much bleeding, but her skin was cut so deep and wide that it was slipping down the back of her neck!  It looked like someone had taken a large knife to her.  But it just didn’t make sense why…why just cut her?  Why not take her…eat her for dinner?  Was somebody trying to send us a message? Could it have been that big, mean rooster that harasses her when Foghorn isn’t around?  His beak?  A claw? We had no idea.
She seemed to be in shock more than pain as we cleaned the cut and loaded it with antibiotic ointment.  She didn’t fight us on treating it and she wasn’t losing much blood.  The cut would only bleed a little when she’d move her neck and head funny to feel what was going on up there.  She ate and drank some, and then I put her to bed.  She went right to sleep.
The next morning she was called by Foghorn bright and early, as usual.  When we opened up her bed, we saw that her wound was starting to scab.  Good!  She was acting like her normal self – talky, energetic, and ready to take on the day; but we felt she needed to stay up on the veranda for at least a day of healing.  We were getting ready to walk up to a nearby community I work with on farming-based projects, so we leashed her to a door on our veranda.  That way she could walk around and eat, but not jump up on the railing and fly down to a calling Foghorn (something she got very adept at doing in previous weeks).  
That early afternoon we returned to a happy Shakira and…her first egg!  She had laid one in her garaba (her bed – an open-weave basket with a straw nest in it) and was back up walking around the veranda.  So exciting!  Also, kind of perplexing…did the head wound from the night before trigger this first egg?  Weird.  But, who cares!  We were just so psyched she had the egg.
We left the egg in her bed for a few hours before taking it into the kitchen.  We didn’t want to upset her by grabbing it right away.  Like clockwork, at 6pm she got into her garaba for bed and didn’t seem to mind the missing egg.
The next morning we felt Shakira’s wound had scabbed over well enough (enough for a badass chicken, that is), so we let her go strolling with Foghorn again.  The following day, a Saturday, she laid another egg!  Foghorn brought her back to our house mid/late morning (that’s about 8:00am here) and started making a huge fuss for us to let her up.  He had never brought her back to the house at this hour, so we knew it had to be important.  (He’s such a good BF.)  We let her up, and she went running right into her garaba.  If we walked anywhere near Shakira’s bed while going about our business, she’d ruffle her feathers and cuss us out.  But an hour later she had laid her second egg!  She had become a true egg-bearing chicken!  We were going to let her stay with her egg for a bit while we went to the Saturday market, but she was clearly ready to get back to Foghorn.  After just minutes with her egg she jumped out of her garaba, flapped her way onto the veranda’s railing, crapped all over our hatch door, and then flew down to her BF.
This pattern went on for a couple of weeks.  She laid a total of nine eggs…maybe even ten – we lost count.  A couple of eggs went to neighborhood kids who babysat Shakira when we were out of town one weekend.  Everyone agreed they were delicious. 
But as Shakira neared the laying of her final egg in the sequence, she started acting much differently.  She would want to sit in her garaba for longer periods of time throughout the day, and she started giving Foghorn the cold shoulder.  She wasn’t interested in eating or drinking unless I’d pick her up out of her bed and place her on the veranda to eat.  Even then, she’d stay in her nesting position (sitting as though she was covering up a pile of eggs).  Her once charming personality had turned into something defensive and irritable.  She’d get very upset when we neared her in her garaba, trilling high-pitched noises and “barking” for us to get back. 
This behavior continued days after her final egg.  She didn’t want to leave her garaba, but no eggs were there.  We asked our Malagasy friends what was going on.  Each friend had a different take on the situation, but ultimately the consensus was this:  Shakira wanted to be a mother; she had caught on that we were swiping her eggs and was ticked off; and the reason she wasn’t leaving her garaba now was because she thought she was incubating at least part of her batch of eggs.  Phantom eggs.  OK.  Sooo, what now??
To cure this mess, one friend suggested we get her some fresh eggs at the market that she could sit on for a few weeks and hatch.  Then, raise…for 3 months.  At month four she’d be ready for another go at having eggs.  (Not quite the egg-laying plan we had in mind when we got her.)  Another friend thought we should just put egg-like objects under her to keep her company for now.  Soon she’d give up on them and start a new egg-laying cycle.  Then another friend offered the tougher-love approach:  kick her out during the days and make her start roaming again.  Finally, others believed we should leash her to something outside for 3 or 4 days and then she’d be fine. 
Confused, we tried a medley of approaches.  We gave Shakira a few ping-pong balls and an egg-shaped rock to keep warm.  She really loved them.  We also started taking her downstairs a couple times a day for her to stretch her legs and think hard about being a free woman again.  Eventually we took her fake eggs away and made her go out first thing in the morning.  But she fought us on this – any time she’d see us coming home or outside doing chores, she’d run up to us and plead to be let upstairs.  Whenever the door to the steps would swing open, she’d beeline her way through it.  When I’d go to get water below our house, she’d meet me at the tap, scowl, and threaten to jump on me from her higher perch.  Or she’d peck at my legs once or twice when she’d walk by the get a drink.
Feeling bad, we started to cave.  We’d let Shakira sit in her garaba for parts of the day again.  She went back to protecting her phantom eggs from us, or any visitors walking by her garaba.  This pattern of us caving (all very confusing for Shakira, I’m sure) went on for maybe another week.  She was so obsessed with nesting that she wasn’t eating or drinking enough…even when we put her down right in front of her dinner.   
We decided she needed to stay out all day again.  At least then she’d be up walking and back to her food-searching instincts.  So she went out…and she seemed OK with it this time!  Foghorn was not around, but the family living below us had purchased four young chickens that were now roaming the grounds.  Shakira took to them.  They’d walk, scratch, and search for food together.  Hang at the water source and cluck.  Find shady spots to sit and relax as a group.  Foghorn even came back.  Granted, he had become friendly with some new gal pals in the interim, but he was so happy to see Shakira roaming again.  He stomped and danced around her like he used to when he’d fetch her from our veranda in the mornings.  They played around and Shakira introduced him to her new friends.  It was good.
Unfortunately, though, I must tell you it was good only for a few days longer.  While I was writing this blog update, Shakira went missing.  It’s been a week since she’s been home.  Last Sunday, after finishing up afternoon kickball with the local kids, we went home and started a handful of evening chores.  As the sun began to set, Shakira was nowhere near our house.  Very strange – she’d typically start hovering near our place in the late afternoon.  Erik and I walked the grounds looking for her.  Then Erik searched more distant areas with the kids, all calling for Shakira.  A group of girls even went with Erik into town to see if they would find Shakira along our dirt road.  Alas, they came back empty-handed.
That night we kept the door to our veranda stairs open very late hoping Shakira was only out with Foghorn and planning to tardily ascend them.  But she didn’t return.  Not the next day either.  Now a week later, we’re pretty certain she’s gone for good.  (We were pretty certain of this when she was just ½ hour late.) 
When chickens go missing here, it’s usually due to theft.  It’s easy enough for a hungry family to grab a roaming chicken from the road and be on their way.  Likely, that’s what happened to Shakira.  She was getting plump, and certainly quite attractive to a family in a pinch for ample food (something that happens here around this time of year due to the farming schedule).
So, let us apologize for a sad ending to the story of Shakira.  She was a stubborn one, but she taught us much, and we loved her.  How could you not love your first chicken?

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