Chicken Diaries: Don’t Fence Me In

Rosey is claustrophobic. Who knew chickens can suffer from phobias?  Apparently, like human animals they are pretty much capable of all the positive and negative feelings I am so it follows phobias are among their challenges.  Still, it doesn’t seem quite fair. 

Despite the difficulty of chicken life: full crops, skin irritation, a body temperature which runs about one hundred seven degrees and being a prey animal as well as experiencing complex issues such as phobias, they wake up each day excited about learning new, important skills.  Among them is how to use a nesting box.

Rosey is right in there excited to learn but she has a different take on chicken life.  She wants to fly despite her big body and short wings and she does not want to be fenced in. I’m thinking she dreams of an open range where she can go home to her family at the end of a day of adventure.  She’s most certainly our girl chicken version of Huck Finn. 

Despite Rosey’s longing when she and her siblings become big chickens they are allegedly going to go into these boxes and relax in the evening and when the need strikes lay their eggs there.  We thought they’d all be excited to have some little rooms of their own so we set the boxes up in their enclosure then we sat back secretly delighted about our gift and watched.

Four of them hopped right in and began kicking sawdust and nestling in.  They got a gold star for good work.  Two of them flew to the top of the nesting boxes and roosted.  Well, that’s not what we had in mind but it’ll work.

Then came Rosey.  She looked into the confined, dark spaces and lost her mind.  She began clucking and ran, head tucked down, wings tight, bobbing and weaving, tripping over her grit dish and yelling. She booked it, terrified, to the other side of the enclosure and looked at us in profile with one skeptical eye.

Kyra, my four year old grand daughter and the “mom” to our chickens, decided Rosey just needed proper encouragement to check out her nice cedar wood nesting box and picked her up, gently placing her in the box.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Not even a second later she came frantically running out like a tiny chicken ninja, head down, back down, this time wings out, yelling at the top of her fine lungs.  Rosey is not happy with her nesting box. 

We wondered if she had a fear of being closed in when one night we put a mesh cover over their little enclosure to keep the two flying chickens in and away from the many dangers of a child’s bedroom and Rosey began pacing and nervously staring at the cover as if, quite literally, the sky was falling.  We took it off and she settled back into her chicken zen sitting sweetly with her siblings.

So now with the nesting box trauma we’re pretty convinced Rosey is claustrophobic or something close.  Since there are no hen therapists available we think our choice is simple, Rosey does not have to use the nesting box if it doesn’t work for her.

As we travel down this road with our chickens we are learning that chickens, like people, are absolutely unique.  There are no two alike.  Rosey dreams of freedom and flight. She loves her free range time and waits in anticipation for the evenings when she can walk around unfettered as a free bird.  Our four Silkies who look like small emperors in their fine, fluffy feathers and decorative poofs which look like hats love their nesting box, and show a home body streak a mile wide as they constantly move things around in their nest and cuddle each other contentedly when the work is done.  Our little flying Bantams, Happy and Henny Penny are adventurers setting out to fly about the room and then dashing back in their home shaking off their feathers and wiping their feet as if returning after a long days work.  Each of them have different cuddling styles, spots they want scratched and while they all get along they have siblings they are closer with than others.

I watch them, each one, noting preferences and fears, longing and loss and just like me much of their work is unseen. There are no two alike and I’m so glad for that. It just re-enforces the great mystery that is life and all the varied and great miracles that are life  too.  The more I learn the more I know how little I really know.

Now I’m just wondering if a nesting box with a window will work for my Rosey–one thing is for sure, she’ll let me know.



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