A sunny morning and the coop is full of energy and lively conversation most of it I think centered around; “Where’s our breakfast. Not that chicken scratch but the good stuff like yesterday..some fresh fruit perhaps?”
Now don’t start on anthropomorphism–I know–sounds like I’m making chickens human. But trust me anyone who is around them for long knows chickens have a pretty intense pallet and love to eat. I forgot the treats. The cheery conversation became a silent memorial service.
Chicken people will also confirm to you that the look of a disappointed chicken is unmistakable. First they drop their heads and wings as if exhausted, they go from running toward you looking in your hands to looking away and slowly marching off. They grow silent in their sadness and stand away from you with their backs turned. Maybe it means nothing but when it happens the same way every time you forget breakfast snacks, well even a slow witted human starts to take a hint.
I went in the house cooked up some nice Red’s Buckwheat and brought it to them still warm. I briefly felt like I was in a boy band with all the swooning and screaming. I set it down and immediately became invisible to everyone but Happy the head rooster who tipped his head and looked me in the eye like John Wayne; “thank you kindly mam.” He stood off to the side and let his flock mates eat first.
He makes me swoon.
Then I made my rounds to the little black bunny and her room mates, two pubescent chickens, one a young lady with black feathers who is tall and thin like a runway model named Tara and her brother the affable but perpetually confused boy, Cameron. He is also very tall with red and black feathers and the twin to his mom, Rosey, my skeptical but loyal friend. These two, mostly Cameron, are not ready for prime time flock life. They can’t quite read the body signals and seem to be confused between; “hold still a hawk is circling” and “come over here, there are some delicious worms.” This is highly problematic and enraging to their elders who don’t hold back when Cameron leads the hawk to their secret spot by yelling and run hopping to where they are hiding. He’s gotten the back of the wing a few too many times to leave them all alone together.
Still, they are chickens and as such I figured it was time they got their due in breakfast treats as well. I forgot the reticence and skepticism of youthful birds.
I put a small plate of Buckwheat down for Melanie the rabbit and a little dish for the young chickens. What I saw amazed me.
First, Melanie is such a typical mammal. She hopped right in and started sniffing and nibbling on the oats. She didn’t give it much thought beyond that. We mammals seem to think we can handle whatever is thrown at us even when we’re an eight inch long black bunny. That might just be evolutionary biology because we’re pretty prolific. If one of us goes there are three more behind them. Chickens are not that way. It’s difficult to become a natural born, adult thriving chicken.
Let me explain.
I know it’s hard to believe because there are so many and because there is KFC. But that is not actual, normal, natural born chicken. That is a nasty science experiment with a LOT of human intervention and does not care if the chicken is sick, infected and dead by a few months old. Those chickens do not come from a short courtship between a mom and dad chicken, weeks of a mother sitting on the eggs denying herself food and water. They are not the product of a hen who despite her best efforts will successfully hatch maybe one or two eggs out of a dozen. Nor does it take into account a fertilized egg is also pretty rare. Roosters do what they can but given the biology of birds it’s pretty hard for sperm to reach an egg.
Now consider that chicks are intensely fragile. Many die in their baby sleep, many simply fall and die. So getting two healthy baby chickens to mature into healthy adulthood is a big deal in the natural world. It’s a big deal in our world too, I’ll admit we’re proud of our crew.
Because nature set it up so there would not be too many chickens on the planet knowing that would cause a fierce imbalance affecting water, dirt, air and all of the eco system (apparently Colonel Sanders didn’t get the memo) natural chickens are also smart and cautious.
I was reminded of that this morning.
Our veteran chickens jumped at breakfast because they’ve had it before and they know it’s good. This was the first time for Tara and Cameron. I watched their scientific method of testing. First we must accept the premise they love to eat so they wanted to trust it. But their chicken smarts said…hmmm..this is not worms nor regular chicken food..smells interesting but we’re not sure if it’s okay. Tara moved in first. She quickly pecked the dish. Then jumped back to see what would happen. Nothing. She pecked it again but moved away more slowly. Then she went at it again and tapped it with her foot. Nothing. Finally she moved her face toward it slowly, tipped her head and examined the contents. She felt its warmth and observed if it was moving or not.
More time elapses and she steps back and sits across from it staring. Many minutes have gone by already and she is still patiently testing. While she is playing Einstein her brother has already gone to not knowing but feeling hungry so he’s eating chicken pellets and watching the oats out of the corner of his eye, just in case.
Finally the moment. Tara has waited to see if there is danger or trickery and decided it’s an all clear for a taste. She walks over, pecks in the center of the dish. She grabs a bite, walks to the edge of her coop, drops it and moves it around the floor with her beak (this is how her mother tirelessly taught her to eat worms and she remembers the drill–which makes me tear up a little remembering that all living things trust their moms) and then she pops it into her mouth. Bam! Chicken happiness. She dashes over and grabs another then another. She’s gobbling it up. Her brother tips his head and watches; wait..what’s going on?
Lucky for Cameron there will always be chicken pellets in his life.
Eventually, he comes to trust the Tao of Buckwheat, perfect as it is, paradoxical in that it does not look like awesome grub yet it tastes like it.
Meantime, I try to tell my fellow mammal Melanie what I just witnessed. She hops off glancing over her shoulder as if to say..I don’t have time for this right now, I have so much on my plate.
Mammals–seen one, seen them all.