Photo: Martin de Witte cc, thanks!
One day, after romping in the lilacs and eating bugs out of the leaf pile all afternoon, Prudence wandered off and did not return at bedtime.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SUSAN BLOOD
We got chickens a few years ago because we liked the idea of them. We liked knowing where our eggs came from. We liked the thought of our food being as fresh as possible. We liked not having to spend 45 minutes in the egg aisle of the grocery store trying to figure out what Free Range and All Natural meant.
There are other benefits, too. The sound chickens make as they mosey around eating bugs is between a cluck and a coo. If you could bottle it, the pharmaceutical companies would be on you in one hot minute. There is something very soothing about a content chicken. The same goes for watching them free range. It’s hilarious and heart-warming to see a chicken pop out of the daylillies.
These are all the things we knew about chickens before we got them, and the arguments I used with my husband to convince him it was a good idea and I was not crazy. I had also heard that they were dumb as rocks and would happily eat you if you stayed still long enough. I didn’t share that part with the family.
There’s always one hen who gets all up in your scraps
We have since learned more than we ever wished to know about chickens. We have confirmed that foxes, coyotes, hawks and racoons like to eat them. We’ve learned that chickens in turn will eat almost anything (except onions). We’ve discovered that some chickens are nicer than others.
It turns out much of what we’ve learned about chickens applies to people, too.
For instance, we learned that racoons like to eat chickens, but we also discovered that chickens can fend off a raccoon. We watched Genius (don’t ask) save the lives of her two little buddies by getting right up in a raccoon’s face – saving her own life in the process.
Chickens are bravest, fiercest and most effective when they are looking out for each other.
Whenever I throw a big pile of scraps into the coop, one chicken goes around trying to get the others away from the scraps they’ve nabbed. She doesn’t eat them herself. She just doesn’t seem to want the others to have them. For some chickens, the scraps are always better when they’re in someone else’s beak.
You know the term pecking order?
It’s a real thing.
Whenever we introduce new chickens to the flock, this elaborate chicken dance ensues while they reestablish a pecking order. We usually have one chicken who needs to be the boss of everyone, or at least think she is.
But there are three chickens she doesn’t mess with: the grand dames of the flock. They don’t go in for the chicken dance. They don’t engage in silliness. They ignore everyone and go about their business because they have nothing at risk.
When chickens are established within themselves, the pecking order falls into place around them.
The inner cluck of a chicken and other poultry wisdom
No matter where they are, chickens always come home and find a safe place to roost in the evening. They like huddling up in their house and require very little herding – which is good since the neighbors already have enough to talk about. Chickens have great internal clocks and do best when they listen to them.
One day, after romping in the lilacs and eating bugs out of the leaf pile all afternoon, Prudence wandered off and did not return at bedtime. We scoured the neighborhood, calling her name and singing her favorite songs (I wish I were kidding), but found no trace of her. We looked for days because we are self-deluded and hoped for the best. On the third day, we spotted her trying to find her way back into the coop. Sometimes chickens need to see what’s out there before they settle down.
Birds of a feather really do flock together. This borders on some kind of chicken racism, but my old barred rocks take care of the newly recruited barred rocks and the araucanas tend to hang out together. The thing is, flocks flock together, too – no matter their feathers. In the spring when we pick out new chicks, we like to mix it up and get different kinds. These flocks will be friends forever, despite how different some of them look. Family is family no matter how you come into it.
Don’t get me wrong, chickens do dopey and stinky things, too. But every once in a while, when someone been pecking at me, or when I find myself envying what’s in someone else’s beak, I think of the chickens and try to practice their wisdom.
I draw the line at eating bugs.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.