by Henry Lane Hull
After many decades of “fooling” with all sorts of fowl, I have come to the conclusion that I understand less of the workings of the avian mind than I did before I began. With ducks and geese I have developed a rapport that is mutually understandable and supportive, but with chickens the relationship is far more problematic.
The old adage that a dog never bites the hand that feeds it does not apply with chickens. They see only the end result, eating, and do not care what the meal course is. Occasionally, a gentle chick will develop into a pet, but for the most part they are aggressive towards anything and anybody that appears to be a potential snack.
Their greatest anger and envy are directed towards fellow chickens, as they try to grab everything available for themselves. A mother hen will be quite solicitous about caring for her brood of chicks, but then suddenly one day she wakes up and realizes that they are no longer her charges, but now are competitors in the food line. At that point it becomes every hen for herself.
As a child I had a lovely Dominecker pet by the name of Daisy. She was a delightful animal, affectionate and utterly well behaved. In human parlance one would say she was well brought up, fully cognizant of good manners. She remains the gold standard among the chickens I have raised, and a few times I have had others of a friendly nature, but not often and definitely not to Daisy’s level of affection.
As a rule, I never have more than one rooster at a time, lest they spend all their time fighting with each other for supremacy in the barnyard. I do not like to see conflict, hence I have refrained from having multiple cockerels strutting around the yard. At present we have 21 hens, all but one of which are Rhode Island Reds, the lone dissenter being the offspring of a bantam hen and a Dominecker rooster.
Over the years I have found that bantam hens are ideal brood mothers. Despite their diminutive size they are impressive in protecting their young ones from pecking by other large chickens. At present of the 21 hens the pecking order is defined in clear terms. One hen roosts all day long, rarely setting claw on the ground, as she is at the bottom of the pecking order, and she knows it. I virtually have to feed her in isolation to ensure her getting adequate sustenance.
Raising chickens offers benefits other than eggs. They eat bugs and produce excellent fertilizer for the garden. Their favorite foods are shrimp and crab shells that they voraciously devour for the calcium to produce stronger shells for their eggs. The carapace of a crab poses a challenge, but after a couple of days they will master the art of consuming it as easily as if it were a shrimp shell.
I recognize that the petite chicken brain has its hands full directing the operations of such a large body. Transmitting sentiments of affection is not its normal forte, Daisy excepted. Our chickens solely are egg producers, and when their laying days come to an end, they live on in retirement and never wind up in the stew pot.
Our friend, Al Douglas, whose wife, Betsy, is a frequent shrimp shell contributor to our flock, has said that our eggs are the best-tasting he has eaten. I appreciate his compliment, and I attribute the quality of the eggs to the chickens’ organic diet.
The Elder B.E. has urged me to get a rooster to start anew the process of chick production this spring, but such a course would reduce the volume of edible eggs coming forth, thus for the present the matter remains on the table, or should I say, up on the roost.