We have been keeping chickens for nearly ten years. These days we have three large hens, and a whole mess of bantams. This fall three of the bantams were broody – one successfully hatched 4 chicks, and the other two spent their time arguing over who got to sit on a golf ball. Which made me wonder, am I spending my days fussing over things that are not productive, or am I spending my time hatching life?
We started our experiments with fowl one spring with four ducklings, which were slowly picked off one by one over the course of a summer by raccoons. They were vulnerable to the attacks because they refused to be penned up at night, and we, new to keeping birds as we were, had not made them a run to spend their days in. The nightly duck rodeos chasing them all over hell and back were ridiculous, hilarious, and often unsuccessful attempts at getting them safely locked in.
The next year we were gifted a small chicken house with adjacent run, complete with three laying hens. Alas the raccoons were able to dine on those chickens as well. The first one they got by breaking through the latch on the egg door, and the last was killed when the raccoons reached their wily paws through the chicken wire and beheaded her quite gruesomely. We were not deterred and worked to create better and better hen houses. Over the years we have had many chickens, and have had them killed by every possible predator in our ecosystem. Raccoons, coyotes, mink, eagles, chicken on chicken violence, red tailed hawk, opossum, dog, automobile, and possibly a cougar which may have been responsible for the last massacre out at our garden in Svensen. Basically everything wants to eat chicken. I guess because chicken meat tastes like… chicken?
Keeping chickens has taught us all that there are no guarantees in life. The four chicks died this fall, from a variety of things – including drowning, exposure to rain, and two by feral cat. The inexperienced mother didn’t help matters. After loosing her brood she herself was carried off by a red tailed hawk. Meanwhile the two golfball babes have happily rejoined the flock. Which makes me wonder if being “productive” is all it is cracked up to be.
Despite the perilous nature of keeping chickens, we have enjoyed their company immensely. Not least of which because their eggs are better than any money can buy. When a hen lays an egg she makes very enthusiastic sounds, which are echoed by her flock mates. Their pecking order is a very clear hierarchy- which once established makes everyone more comfortable. Chickens have taught me that life is worth living even when fleeting, that putting in effort and self sacrifice pays off, the importance of celebrating accomplishments of both self and others, and that knowing your place in the scheme of things makes your life easier. We Humans also have a pecking orders of our own.
All in all as the nation gears up to celebrate all we are thankful for, mostly by eating poultry, I like to remember the gifts offered by the fowl ones- both metaphoric and nutritional. I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful, and filled with delightfully non-productive moments with those you love. (Hopefully not fighting over golf balls or fighting off predators.)