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Chicken Chuckles

November 28, 2011

I carefully balance four eggs in my hand and marvel at the smoothness of their shells and the variety in colour.  Their freshness is an astonishing gift.  This daily ritual fills me with simple pleasure.  I throw a few handfuls of scratch down to thank the girls for their offering before I carry the eggs up to the kitchen for my family’s breakfast.



Having backyard chickens satisfies my desire to know where our food comes from and even produce some of it ourselves.  Our four girls are also, however, a huge source of entertainment and simple amusement.    According to Alison Gopnik, there’s a relationship between how long a childhood a species has, how big their brains are relative to their bodies, and how smart and flexible they are.  So because chickens are mature within a couple of months of hatching, they are basically as dumb as stumps. 

If I want to feel really smart, I go sit by the chicken run and watch the girls for a while.  Each one pays a lot of attention to what the others are doing at any given time.  They follow each other around neurotically, not wanting to miss out on a single bug or fresh weed.  If a crow flies over the run, the shadow sends them scurrying for shelter under the coop.  But seconds later they seem to forget that there was any danger and are out scratching and pecking again, compulsively backing their way around the yard, attentive to each other at all times. 

The person who sold us the chickens warned us to have enough room for them to roam, because the term pecking order justifiably comes from chickens.  Our girls spend a lot of time trying to figure out the pecking order in our flock.  They posture by stretching out their necks and flapping their wings, or chase each other around the run.  Of the four, three are battling for dominance, while the fourth has accepted her place at the bottom.  She acts too dignified to chase the others around, and is always the last one out of the coop in the morning, not needing to prove her place as earliest bird.  She could be slightly smarter than the others, since she’s the only one so far who has figured out to sleep in the nesting box at night where the heat lamp is, rather than out in the main part of the coop.

We came to the backyard chicken scene late, being a bit daunted by the learning curve.  After some research on the internet and some help from the Nanaimo Poultry Collective, we decided to dive in.  My brilliant partner converted a chicken tractor from Buckerfields into a raised coop with room for the girls to roam underneath.  He added a roost, nesting boxes and a hinged floor that drops down for easy cleaning.  After fencing in a small run and covering it with netting to keep wild birds and avian predators out, we were ready to welcome our chickens!

Six months in, I have come to terms with my daily chicken chores: replacing soiled bedding with fresh pine shavings and topping up food and water containers, as well as collecting eggs, of course.  The humble reward of eating their eggs, coupled with the entertainment value of their antics, makes these pets well worth the effort.

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