Chicken Diaries; The sisterhood of travelling with new pants

Rosey is in a bad mood.  She doesn’t like her new pants.  While she’s at it, she doesn’t much like the size of her house and since she’s already letting it out she might as well mention that it’s annoying two of her siblings can fly and no matter how hard she practices jumping off things and flapping she is not making much progress.

Rosey Marie is our “sexlink” chicken.  We think her designation of breed is rather insulting so we don’t really use it but this gives you enough information to look up what she kind of looks like if you want to. 

Rosey is also considered a “m**t*” chicken, okay that’s enough of that because Rosey is my friend and I wouldn’t think of her that way anymore than I’d think of you like a plate of food. Yet that tag attached to her makes the thousands like her have their days numbered.  How sad. She’s such a smart, sweet bird who displays actually a lot of complex emotions, most recently those feelings look a lot like angst.

You see Rosey is about a month old now and she’s going through the change from hatchling to chicken.  Like most forms of transition, it’s uncomfortable.  I woke up just a few days ago to notice Rosey had sprouted a pair of pants.  They look like black, itchy capris pants going just below her knees.  They have small feathers going different directions and being a two footed girl with wings rather than hands, how is she supposed to scratch those itchy feathers?  She knows the answer.  Come to the gate of her small apartment she shares with six other chickens and tap on the latch while stretching her neck to look me directly in the face.  Once I’ve correctly read her body language and opened the gate she folds herself in front of me legs in one direction, wings in another so she resembles a puzzle that’s been disassembled and waits for a nice massage which includes belly, chest and leg scratching all around those itchy new feathers.  She vibrates with contentment in discovering that her hairless and over sized friend has her virtues. 

While I can help my friend in this way there is another issue that I haven’t figured out how to address; her apparent longing to fly. 

Rosey has two siblings (they’re adopted so not from the same batch of eggs) who are Bantam chickens.  These two can fly.  They let everyone know it by jumping to the edge of their enclosure and then dashing around the room for some roaming and then returning back.  Rosey who is taller by several inches and a very solid jumper watches them and I see her longing for that same freedom. 

This morning when I came in to enjoy a cup of coffee with the flock Rosey looked anxious.  Her siblings, Happy and Henny, had been flying around and there she was on top of her feeder looking ready to jump.  She stretched her feathers, let out her beautiful low and determined cluck and jumped into flight.  Rosey made it maybe an inch or two and then fell and lay rumpled on the ground.  She yelled, limped a bit and went off into the corner with her little face against the corner.  I reached into to comfort her and promised that soon it would get better.  She might not be able to fly like her siblings but she would find her special talent.

Rosey doesn’t believe me but she has many special talents which are important.  She is the only one who understands the latch on her enclosure, she is the strongest high jumper in the group, she is the one the others follow in times of danger such as vacuuming near the enclosure, cleaning the sawdust and changing out the food and generally scary noises like dogs barking and Rosey is a friend to everyone.  She is a natural born leader.  Flying would be good but it’s not everything.

Rosey is also the one who inspires our family to want to be better chicken friends and as a result we’re building a very nice, cedar indoor aviary so that our new family members can stretch out without fear of predators.  We love all our chicken kids but Rosey is so large we can clearly see that a bigger house is better.  Because she’s growing so rapidly and developing those itchy big girl feathers we also know how to comfort her younger siblings as they start itching relentlessly.

Rosey taught us the value of music…to chickens. We tried to calm our friend and found music did the trick. Everyone enjoyed the concert but none more than Rosey Marie who settled down sweetly and gathered her younger family members around her to enjoy the show.  If you didn’t know this chicken owners and friends, they love consonant or melodic music.  It’s baffled scientists because chickens are not naturally acquainted with music like say a Warbler who sings or a Cockatoo who dances naturally.  Chickens would very rarely be exposed to music in their shells and they do not produce music.  Yet if you put on the Bach Suites on Pandora (our guys enjoy Yo Yo Ma) they will tuck in, sit quietly, turn their heads in the direction of the music, lift their necks and listen for as long as it plays without moving. Their faces craned toward the sound they are enjoying the music just as anyone might.

When you shut off the music, they stand up and get back to their busy pecking, scratching and other work of chickens.  I am not anthropomorphizing, this has actually been studied extensively to show that even creatures who have no direct relationship to music can appreciate it deeply.

I see it like this, I cannot lay eggs but I can enjoy a humanely laid egg over a piece of toast.  Rosey and all the others cannot play music but they can enjoy it.  They give to us, we give them to them.  We all enjoy in symbiosis, does it get any better?

So as Rosey goes through her transformation and gets a little blue about her new pants and new discovery that flying does not appear in the cards for her I can curl her in front of me and scratch the parts that itch while listening to her favorite composer. I can remind her that while neither of us have it exactly as we’d wish we do have each other, we have Bach and we have the wonder of knowing each other which neither of us counted on just a month ago.

Going through change with Rosey is creating a change in me.  Without her I might not have understood the disappointment of lacking flight, the itchiness of feathers and the deep need for a nesting box and that would be a terrible loss, for me. 




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