Friday, May 4, 2012

International Respect for Chickens Day

Clover (center) last summer with Gert and Marigold. Small, but holding her own.
I just learned from Sarah, at her Animals Help Heal blog, that today is International Respect for Chickens Day.

Sarah very kindly mentioned Coop & Cottage in her blog post about chickens used in therapy (and hers is an interesting blog, worth checking out). I didn't know that today was designated for chickens, so I Googled, and lo and behold, found this: United Poultry Concerns.

Maybe it's the whole Henny Penny fiasco, or Chicken Little, or Foghorn Leghorn, but chickens are not exactly high on the noble and dignified animal list. They are seen as flighty, messy, and not-too-smart. They get more respect on the table than they do in the yard.

But as I've written before, I tend to see them in a new light now that I have some fowl in the family.

Yes, they are messy. But their manure makes fabulous compost. And smart? My chickens are smart. You just have to spend some time with them to see their small brains working things out. My friend Betsy was telling me about a show she watched where someone trained chickens and proved how quickly they learn, but like all animals, their learning and behavior is based on survival. What may seem silly to our human minds is, if examined, actually very wise for life as a chicken.

They are flighty instinctively--they know they're viewed as prey, and if something seems suspicious to them, they aren't waiting around to see if it's friend or foe.

Yesterday, when the Littles were in the big yard, a bird flew overhead and sounded hawk-like. Lotte, Inga and Pip wasted no time getting beneath the lilac bush where a bird of prey would have little chance of grabbing one of them. A startling sound will have them all standing perfectly still, heads raised, listening. A dog in the next yard sends them to the coop's safety. A cat? Well, they have cats figured out. No worries there.

This morning I was watering lettuce and spring sprouts in the garden, and pondering the topic of respect for chickens. I watched the Bigs running around in the chicken yard. Thelma has become a bit bossy, and she was running Pearl around, then chased Mabel, and ran off Oreo.

Clover, a Bantam who is just a little bigger than Pearl, and about one-third the size of Thelma, decided she'd had enough of Thelma's behavior. She ran up to her, her feathers as fluffed as could be, her neck stretched tall, hackles standing like a lion's mane around her neck, her wings lifted. She looked really annoyed. Thelma responded in kind, fluffing her own feathers importantly.

They ran at each other and bumped chests several times (Clover had to hop up in the air to actually bump chests with Thelma), and it became pretty clear that Clover was not. backing. down in this little sparring session. Thelma tried one last time to bluster Clover into submission, then she realized she'd lost this little game of... well... chicken. She wandered off, maybe just a little humbled.

I laughed at Clover. Now there's a little hen who demands respect.

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