by Allison Krug, science/medical writer and BI chicken farmer
After hearing about the bombs in Boston, I am still processing the events. They made me think–again–about all those who live in volatile areas punctuated by the sound of constant explosions. How do they endure the stress? The constant vigilance? Perhaps they don’t know any other way.
As I walked down to close up the coop tonight I thought about the fun our flock had out in the garden this afternoon. I wondered if there would be more eggs this week in response to increased “recess” time. (I have a theory that free range hens really are happier and that this “happiness” translates to increased productivity–I’m working on proving it with a quasi-experimental study.) But my thoughts quickly returned to the theme of constant vigilance. When the chickens are out in the garden for recess, we know that it is risky. We had gotten a bit relaxed about it before spring break and lost a hen who had just started to lay.
My youngest son, Ben, was on guard duty that day. He ran in and told me the birds were alright, and then headed back out as I raced against a work deadline the day before flying off for vacation. It was such a manic day that I didn’t have time to herd the flock back in. It was one of those hyperventilating madness days. I didn’t even have time to eat. So when Ben wanted to stay in for a while, and I thought I’d be done shortly, I agreed. The predator only left behind a few feathers, and I never heard a squawk. I really wonder what it was, but I do know we have a large raccoon with a lovely apartment at the base of a nearby maple. Now we’re back to a state of constant vigilance. But we merely play backup for the roosters.
Yes, we have two roosters, father Merlin and son Gordon. They are always in a state of vigilance, one eye up to the sky while the girls forage. Roosters have a bad rap, but I respect them. And although I have had my share of run-ins with Merlin, I see quite a few admirable traits in my boys. I’m not sure if it is common among roosters, but Merlin and Gordon both point out the best worms and snacks to the hens with a very distinctive chuckle or a bob of their pointy beaks to the ground to draw attention to the treats. From time to time they’ll even pick up a choice snack and deliver it to a hen. They never take the first bite of the good stuff, and often they go without as the girls devolve into a manic feeding frenzy.
But I grew up with roosters, so maybe I see things differently than most chicken owners. We had one friendly rooster, King Cluckit, and one “attack” rooster, Charles, who my mother adopted from a neighbor. I’m not sure I understand how that happened, other than I think we were new to the area and this particular neighbor had a rascally funny bone. My mom had mentioned she really wanted chickens. “Well, I have one I’ll give you,” he said. We soon came to know Charles and his ways. When I got off our school bus as a young girl, Charles would be waiting under the bushes that lined our 600-foot rural New Jersey driveway. I’d walk by and out Charles would shoot, wings flapping as I tore off for the house. One time he managed to get my flip flop on my way down to the barn (we raised and boarded horses, too). He held it hostage, knowing I’d have to come back by to get it. I had to call my mom on the intercom to help out. I wasn’t about to try running past him with only one flip flop!
So my background with roosters may have prepared me to accept Merlin’s rather cold and calculating demeanor. Because Gordon was incubated and hatched into my hands on Ben’s fourth birthday (we timed it that way for his party), he is still friendly nearly a year later. I can pick him up and do chicken head tricks (if you move a chicken’s body, the head stays rock-solid still). I laugh when he dances around me, one wing down, trying to herd and court me. And I enjoy hearing both their crows on our way to school in the morning. I appreciate the stresses of being constantly alert for predators above and below. But maybe they don’t feel it because it’s their instinct. They don’t know any other way. I do wonder if the benevolence I see is instinctive as well. If so, might their kind deserve a bit more regard?
- Coop Scoop: What Kind of Chicken Farmer Are You? Take Our Test
- Coop Scoop: Insight into a Fatal Illness, and Getting a Girl Back on her Feet
- Coop Scoop: How I Reluctantly Became a Hen-Struck “Chicken Sucker”
- Good Dog! Why the Chicken Crossed the Road
- Coop Scoop: How to Winterize Your Chicken Digs
- Bainbridge Island’s “Happy Chicken Sign” Lady Brings Style to Urban Farming
- Bainbridge Farm Goods a Finalist in Martha Stewart American Made Awards
- The 2012 Tour de Coop Scoop and Photo Gallery
- The 2011 Tour de Coop Scoop
- Tour de Coop 2011: Chicken Dumpling Photo Gallery
- Bucks for Clucks: Tour de Coop 2011 Earnings
Photos by Allison Krug.