I remember as a small child, searching my Uncle Alfred’s hen house for eggs. I was afraid to reach under the hens, but I enjoyed gathering the eggs from the nest boxes without hens. It wasn’t until later that I saw the dark side of chickens. Many years later, I visited a flock that had a clear victim in it. Most of her tail and chest feathers had been plucked out by her flockmates. The owners took for granted that there would be a scapegoat in every flock. My heart reached out to the poor frazzled hen; some part of me could relate to her. I know how it feels to have no comfort and no safe place.
Imagine my delight in meeting Gin’s flock, from the blog, Life with Chickens, (https://lifewithchickens.wordpress.com/).
She had such healthy, happy birds that I was taken aback at first. There was no scapegoat in the mix, and no one had been severely plucked. Gin tells me that each species of chicken has its own pecking order, but I could see no outward evidence of corrections. I’m sure that there is an overall flock order too, but as I walked among her girls, I saw harmony. They were all healthy and well-feathered. There may be a pecking order, but there was no persecution of those lower in rank. Every girl had her health and her dignity.
“This is it,” I thought, “this is chicken nirvana!” Everyone’s physical needs were met; there was no real need for competition. They had plenty of time outside to range about and look for bugs, seeds, and the other things they eat. Their need for freedom in the yard and safety in the coop was in balance. They each had a name and Gin’s affection. They didn’t live in fear of the stew pot or of getting the ax if they stopped producing eggs. Nonetheless, Gin says they are quite prolific in the egg department, and she donates dozens of their eggs to the local food bank each week. Wow! I’ll bet her eggs are popular there!
I recently watched a documentary on chickens at a rescue farm in the UK. They showed how smart and trainable chickens are, and the science in the pecking order. In a happy flock, the pecking isn’t bad at all. The flock producing the scapegoat chicken (pictured above) from a flock I won’t name must have been very stressed, deprived of sunlight and yard time, and treated as livestock rather than soulful friends. The flock was the same size as Gin’s, but the difference was huge.
I think that people are the same way. We thrive when seen as souls rather than political viewpoints or racial profiles. We all need a balance of freedom and safety. We all need to belong without feeling like we are persecuted by those “above” us. And yet, flock harmony eludes us on many levels. We have a lot to learn from chickens.