Of Chickens and Children
Children need something to love. Something that they can give special attention to. Something that thrives under the care they shower upon it. Pets and young siblings are wonderful things for children to love. Unfortunately, at our house, our two daughters have neither a pet nor a younger sibling who appreciates their coddling (4 year old brother wants to be a big boy, not a baby). Not to be thwarted, however, they have set their sights upon our chickens.
Unlike a cat or dog, chickens are neither cuddly nor appreciative of any attention. Despite their ignorance of the love lavished upon them, the girls do their best to wrangle the hens for some cuddle time. While the hens run around squawking at the indignity, the girls chase after them, grab them by the tail, pin them down and then swoop them up into their arms. A quick “put down the chicken” from mom or dad sees the hen thrust away with another indignant squawk and a ruffle of its feathers.
To us adults, one chicken is like another. But to the girls, every hen is unique and distinguishable from the others by the pattern of her feathers and the length and degree of floppiness of her comb. Each hen also has a name. To my knowledge, we have hens named Laura, Flora V and Flora C, Lydia, Fuzzy, Pocahontas and Jezebel. Our rooster, dubbed Sir John, is truly a chivalrous individual. During the first two months he was docile and the girls picked him up just as they did the hens. That didn’t last long.
Just recently, he has shown aggressiveness toward the men at our country home by running at them and trying to hit them with his wings. The children are now cautions of what they do outside and keep an eye out for him when the flock is free-ranging. This change in the rooster has prompted a change in the girls; they are very cautious when near the hens and no longer feel entitled to pick them up for cuddles. They have also been stranded on a table, slide, and in a tree because of their over-active imaginations and healthy respect for Sir John.
Sir John is living up to his name; not only is he becoming more protective of his flock of 30 hens, but he is also a model of chivalry. When we bring out a bowl of kitchen scraps, the hens are trampling over one another to get to the pickings, while Sir John stands back and watches. When ranging around the property, Sir John always has a following of hens. He also has, what seems to me, a very altruistic relationship with his hens. When he comes across some tasty morsel, be it an insect, worm, or food scrap, he won’t gobble it up himself. Instead, he has a particular series of clucks that summon any hen nearby to come and enjoy his find. The hens run in and eat up the treat while he stands over them and watches.
I suppose the hens are glad to have their knight in shining feathers protecting them from the two-legged dragons that used to sweep in and carry them away. We’re also grateful that we no longer have to wonder where the girls are and what hen needs rescuing.