Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good news everyone!*

It turns out I AM smart enough to train a chicken. {Sighs of relief...} In today's sessions the chicken was reliably making almost quarter turns to the right.

The obliging trainee is my favorite chicken, a Light Brahma called Uh-Oh Chicken. She is ideal for training because (1) she is easy to catch and handle, and (2) she loves food. LOVES it. She is the fattest chicken--look! Both of these are breed characteristics, actually: Brahmas are the Labrador Retriever of chickens.

Uh-Oh Chicken works very happily for orzo-sized pieces of apple core. If the pieces are bigger than that it takes her too long to eat them--she must shake them and dash them against the ground and subdue them before sending them down the hatch. I have all the pieces on a little plate, and when Uh-Oh gets clicked, I hold out the plate for her to peck a piece off of. I see from You Tube that people at Chicken Camp have their food reward in a cup, which would probably cut down on the occasional free apple piece flying off the side of the plate. "Buh...wha???" says Uh-Oh Chicken in a Professor Farnsworth voice. "That's not good news at all!!"

*{Professor Farnsworth voice...why is this not on YouTube except in an irritating 30-second montage?}

Friday, September 25, 2009

Clicker with clucker

There is a camp ("Chicken Camp") famous among dog trainers, where participants hone their dog training skills by training chickens. Not dogs. Obviously the participants will need to go BACK to dogs, after camp, because that's where the money is. But if the market shifts one day, these people will be able to train chickens too.

Actually, clicker training chickens is (somewhat) popular because it is a good way to practice the mechanics involved in clicker training anything. As a dog trainer with a flock of chickens, I always thought in kind of a vague way that I would clicker train one someday.

Well, someday started yesterday...and it was an inauspicious beginning. For starters, I frightened my chicken with the target I constructed for her to peck. Also, I planned to shape the behavior of pecking, starting with just looking at the target--but unfortunately I realized on the spot that I couldn't tell when she was looking at the thing. Her eyes are on the sides of her head. I did some hasty reconsidering and decided to train "turn in a circle to the right" instead. So we started on that.

An extremely cursory review of YouTube videos shows me a quick way out of the target problem--namely, make a target that looks like something the chicken would peck at naturally, and then capture the peck instead of shaping it. Ahhhh, I see.

They say "clicker is quicker," but clicker is even MORE quicker when "trainer is brainer." We'll just have to see if I am smart enough to train a chicken.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Joke for a Southern accent

{Note: Joke involves meringue, and must be told while wearing a ring, using a Southern accent, in the presence of lemon meringue pie. Ready? Go:}
Q: How is this pie like mah hand?
A: It's got meringue on it! {display your ring.}

Today's goal was "meringue." I have never made meringue before, but apparently it's mostly just egg whites (which I possess in abundance), and sugar (which is delicious). It requires some fancy accoutrements, though: it is supposed to be piped from a piping bag, plus it is supposed to be baked on parchment paper. Both of which items are so exotically domestic that meringues seem to come straight from a filmstrip about a 1950's housewife. (The phrase "stiff peaks" is also involved with meringues, which phrase reminds me of bras of that era.)

Lost in my own little cinematic time warp, I preheated the oven and set out my ingredients. But suddenly my oven went nuts. "BEEEEP," it went, in an unfamiliar way. "BEEEEP...BEEEEP...BEEEEP" I turned around to find out what it wanted. "-F4-" said its digital display. I started pushing buttons at random.
When I hit the "Oven Cancel" button, the beeping subsided and the digital display reverted to clock mode. "Hmmm," I thought. Experimentally, I hit the "Bake" button again, and the beeping and F4'ing started all over again. I hastily canceled the oven once more.

We have cracked the code to ovenspeak: "-F4-" means "NO MERINGUES FOR YOU!"

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Chicken Talk III: Whut??

Yesterday, while buying chicken feed, I was suckered in by a checkout line magazine called "Chickens." I was particularly attracted to the cover story: Twelve Common Ailments and How to Prevent Them. "Ooooh," I thought, for I am a nerd who must know more about chicken ailments.

I thought a magazine would be a more trustworthy source than the Internet. (Sorry, Internet.) But. I don't know about the cover story's veracity, but let's just say it is now open for debate. Because flipping through the rest of the magazine, I read the following dubious advice in an article about chicken chores:

"Making friends with your flock is easy, fun and serves a practical purpose as well: You'll find it easier to observe your chickens, to lure them into the coop at night and to catch them if they don't regard you as a predator."

Lure them into the coop at night?? This is so puzzling to me that I can't stop thinking about it. Chickens proverbially come home to roost. There exists a time-worn adage to that exact effect. The adage exists because once a chicken sleeps somewhere--like its coop--once or twice, you'll have a hell of a time trying to get it to sleep anywhere else. It's automatic.

So it makes me wonder: Is this article's author going out every night to lure her five chickens into their little coop? And does she ever notice that if she turns up late, they are already inside? And if so, is she pleased that she has trained them?