You may be thinking after reading my last blog about “What Chickens Want” that I am a few bricks short of a full load and that I don’t understand the true nature of chickens. Always keep in mind that I live in town, I have a small flock, and they are basically “working pets.” I have a lot of people watching and enquiring (sometimes daily) about the health and well being of my “girls.”
Here are a few characteristics of chickens that they don’t tell you about at the feed store when you are admiring those fluffy little chicks:
- Chickens Are Birds and All Birds Are Naughty. Our chickens scold, jump, and peck at us from time to time if the snacks are present but not being dispensed quickly enough. They are not as bright as parrots but can be just as ornery. My Grandmother’s green parrot, Mike, used to bully my mother whenever she came to visit. My grandmother doted on the little terror, and he could do no wrong. He would nip at my mom’s ankles and drive her up onto a chair and then chuckle and knuckle walk around it until my grandmother took pity on her, picked him up, and fondly chided him. For all his antics, he was good company for my widowed grandmother. We have one hen, Saucy Sally, who is always trying to get our attention for one reason or another by pecking. We sometimes pick her up and tuck her under one arm while doing chores. This gentle domination seems to settle her hash temporarily. Sure, she’s spicy, but she’s a good-looking hen who lays nice eggs, and we feel she is worth the effort.
- Idle Beaks Are the Devil’s Workshop. Chickens are hardwired to seek and peck. If they are under- or overstimulated, crowded, or malnourished, they seek and peck each other. This can get so ugly that I won’t even elaborate on it here. Keeping birds busy with toys, chicken Kongs, and things they can peck and eat is just common sense from the standpoint of controlling noise, as well as controlling carnage. The goal is eggs for our table and manure for the compost bins, not casualties.
- Chickens are miniature T-Rexes with Feathers. This is related to my previous point. Chickens are like killer reptiles with warm blood. Watch them gobble up anything that moves, and you will know what I mean. An acquaintance of mine picked up a board in her coop one day and uncovered a colony of mice. The chickens got right to work and killed and ate them as efficiently as good mousers. Chickens also move abruptly, compete fiercely, and are harder to read than mammals, which makes some people uneasy.
- Roosters Can Be the Spawn of Evil. I have no roosters because I live in town and minimizing noise is very important. I’ve run into a few of my chickens’ country cousins, though, and it wasn’t pretty. Roosters are very good at challenging and attacking what they consider threats whether it is you, your child, or another bird. They seem to fluff up to three times their normal size and come hunting red meat. They don’t respond like mammals to yelling and posturing; they just keep on coming! Many people have had experiences with roosters that have colored their view of chickens for a lifetime. Roosters do, however, do a wonderful job of warning the flock and deflecting danger, so the hens and chicks can get to safety—often at great cost to themselves.
All in all, I enjoy my hens just the way they are and have very few illusions about them. They keep me on my toes and are absorbing to watch and work around. I like the little noises they make and how their eyes get shiny when they are about to do something bad. They are one of my dreams come true. I hope you are as fortunate. Begonia