Animals, Family, Farming, Friendship

Adventures in Chicken Brain

Oh well.  Lord only knows, when you’re as old as I am, somewhere on the shady side of your seventh decade on this earth (for those of you in Rio Linda, that means I’m in my mid-to-late 60s–deal with it), you must take life as you find it, and celebrate your victories–no matter how minor they may be–con brio! 

And so I relate to you my recent triumph over the collective mindset and determined psychopathy of my small flock of–umm–chickens.

While it’s true that most of the birdbrains I’ve encountered in my life have been of the unFeathered variety, at least these ladies came by their behavior honestly and–I guess–naturally.  There’s nothing in their makeup to suggest that they’ve been damaged by burning the candle at both ends while studying Western Civilization, English literature, theology, Wall Street greed, or military interventionism.  No graduates of West Point, no insistently victimized deplorables no PhDs from Harvard, and no adherents (that I can see) of any of the increasingly woke Western religious denominations in sight.

They are what they are.  And–to be perfectly clear–what they are, is chickens.

So here’s the backstory:

Not quite a year ago, and on one of my lovely walks, I ran across a couple of chickens (as you do–at least if you’re me) starving and freezing, lost on the side of the road.  I brought them both home.  Unfortunately the hen–who was very weak–didn’t survive.  But her kindly protector, whom I named Chinggis, after the Great Khan, did survive.  And he’s with me still.

I spent months looking for a small harem for him to hang out with.  To be perfectly clear (again), he’s a dear, at least as much as it’s possible for a chicken to be such.  He’s not aggressive, temperamental, or bothersome.  He’s not loud (well, except when it comes to announcing sun-up on any given day, which–anyway–I regard as HIS JOB), and he’s cheerful and pleasant of disposition.  He doesn’t appear to harbor tendencies to narcissism, grandiosity, or any other sort of delusional or toxically masculine behavior which would render him out-of-place on my tiny farm and in my small and generally peaceable kingdom.  In short, I love him.

And thus, when, a month or so ago, my local veterinarian offered me a couple of henpecked hens, I jumped at the opportunity to secure companions for him.  And, for the first few days together, Chinggis was on top of the world.  He, Mrs. Precious Ramotswe, and Alakai Bekhi were lovely together.  Just what I’d hoped for.

Then, a neighbor who’d long offered to provide a couple of hens, but upon whom I’d given up waiting, turned up in my driveway with two such in a feed sack.

In case it’s not clear by now, I never turn down the opportunity (sometimes to my considerable cost) to entertain what might turn out to be angels.  So I gave them succor, and after a couple of days, introduced them into the coop.

And a day or two later, I came upon my flock–now numbering five–thus:

My darling Chinggis was blood-soaked and backed into a corner,.  His lovely tail feathers had been pulled out,.  He was bleeding horribly. And the four ladies who’d ganged up on him were delighted with themselves, marching around the chicken run giving little chicken-y purrs of delight. Two individually pleasant groups of two chickens each had–when co-mingled–bonded together, banded together, turned vicious, and decided to destroy the one among them who didn’t fit in.  Life imitating–well, life–I guess.  No.  I don’t guess.  I know.

I was horrified.  I grabbed Chinggis, hauled him into the kitchen, stood him in the sink, and turned the cold water onto his hindquarters to stanch the bleeding.

He was beside himself, Squawking, irate, loud, struggling, and desperate to escape.

Yeah.  Thinking back on it,  I expect he noticed–while I was drenching his backside in the sink–his sudden proximity to a couple of chefs’ knives, a stock-pot or two, the basket of onions and spuds, and the jar of bay leaves.  Daft bugger.  As if I’d ever throw him in the pot.  Not my Chinggis.  Semper Fi, buddy. Loyaute m’Oblige.

Once I’d cleaned him up and investigated the possibilities–slim–for infection (apparently chickens have a pretty high body temperature which wards off most bugs), I put him in the very large dog crate in which he’d spent his first few months with me (while I built the coop).  I waited to make sure the injuries were well on their way to healing and that all the blood was gone, because my friends who keep chickens all told me that as long as he “smelled” of blood he’d be a target of opportunity for anyone still grinding an ax.

Meanwhile, I left the Fearsome Foursome to enjoy what they didn’t yet know was to be their short-lived “victory” in the coop, on their own.

Once Chinggis seemed quite well,  I introduced the hen I thought was the weakest of the four to him and left them together in the crate for a few days.  Chinggis–ever the gentleman, and even in this presence of this elderly, molting, and rather disheveled old lady–puffed out his chest, swelled up to twice his normal size, strutted around, and made her welcome. (I love him even more for this.) After 72 hours of the two of them bonding in the crate–during which she laid me a couple of eggs to show her gratitude–I put Chinggis and his elderly girlfriend into the coop, so they could establish their territorial standing. And I removed the other three ladies into the big crate.

Over the next ten days, I added, after a few days, one of the girls–moving from the least aggressive to the most aggressive.  So that by the time I introduced the hen I thought was the “troublemaker” she was the last introduced, and–therefore–the least important in the chicken hierarchy.

To date, I think my attempts to disrupt the “pecking order” (there’s a reason stereotypes, and even archetypes, are what they are), have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.  Decency, pleasantry, sociability, and complementarity have been restored.  Chinggis is delighted.  His hens, even those very damaged by the time they came to me, are growing back their feathers and starting to look, if not coquettishly nubile, at least not disgracefully nude, and are appearing decently feathered and well.

I suppose time will tell if the current harmonious vibe will continue.  It’s been a couple of weeks to this point, and I’m hopeful that I’ve prevailed. not only in the battle, but perhaps in the war.  I’m still getting, this late in the year, an egg or two a day–pretty good going, my friends tell me.

I suppose I could run 12-hour on/off lights on a timer to encourage them to lay more, but I’m not really interested either in wearing them out or in artificially increasing their output.  They seem happy.  And I’m good with that.


So finally, here we are: Me and my Very Special Guy:

Both of us wish you, including the chickens (feathered and not) among us, a decent life and a Merry Christmas.  And here’s the annual Chateau Right toast to absent friends and loved ones.  I do not forget.

God bless us, every one.

Happy Holidays!

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