Friday, July 19, 2013

Meet the chickens

The chickens were our first outdoor animals. When severe asthma made having cats impossible, I threw my energy into finding something that would feel like company, but live outside where my husband and son wouldn't have to breathe the allergens. Chickens have the side benefit of producing eggs, beautiful feathers, and if we chose, meat. They are also a lot like middle schoolers.

Cosmo and Ember, who is easily twice his size
Our old rooster Cosmo is best described as gallant. Smaller than any of the hens, he will still throw himself in the way of danger. He calls them over when there is food, pretending to drop it until they arrive to share. He steps into the tall grass when the path narrows, so the hens won't have to. He is also confident enough to let a wise hen make a decision if she knows better. Nuki (no he follows the advice of Devor becauce Nuki died) often has brighter ideas than Cosmo, and he will follow her lead, and make sure the rest of the flock does as well. One time he called out to a wild rooster just to fight it! The rooster he waned to fight was much larger. (I don't know the other rooster was bigger from sight but I have been told he was larger.

Peaches and Cream are the Seabrites. Cream is very feminine. She likes to be near Cosmo, and if he's not around she will cling to the other hens instead. She gets very upset when she's alone. Peaches is much more butch. She's the only hen we have who crows; a wild, high pitched sound with the same intonation as a rooster but in a higher key. I've seen her chest fight with Cosmo, but I've also seen them mating, and I've seen her lay eggs. Peaches has special problems with the neighborhood crows. Because she is so close to them in size, they target her for their cruelest bullying. Cream is usually near Cosmo, so she gets a little protection. Because Peaches likes to do things for herself, she sometimes loses a tail feather to a pestering crow.

Ember, the black Austrolorp, is a loner. For a while, we had a hen named Providence. She was unique. She had a spur like a rooster, but otherwise looked like a hen. She was the meanest bird I've ever known. She would pick on another hen even when the hen was trying to get out of her way. Providence had a soft spot for Ember and treated her like a consort, isolating her from the other hens but never picking on her. I could never tell what Ember thought about Providence. She's not a very expressive chicken. Eventually Providence became so hostile to some of the hens, we couldn't keep her.

Nuiki and Devorah are sisters. Nuiki is a genius hen, and always seems to have good plans. Devorah is the most people friendly.

Devorah is the only hen we have that walks up under your hand to get pet. She doesn't mind being picked up, although I don't think it's her favorite activity.

Rhode Island Reds are super reliable egg laying birds. Rosa and Poppy spend a lot of time foraging, then take a brief walk to the nest box and drop off an egg. Very business like.

Lemon and Lime are Copper Marans. I love pastel colored animals, so I was pleased to see that while the eggs are coppery in color, the hens are a pretty, soft blue. For some reason, these two like to nest on the ground.

Elevator got her name because we misheard her breed. She is an olive egger, and is supposed to give greenish eggs. Hers are brown but we love her anyway. She is friendly in a shy way with other chickens. We briefly had a larger rooster( Lorin? who was Cosmos son) , before he tried to kill Cosmo. Elevator loved him and spent all her time with him. They were like high school sweethearts. She does not appreciate Cosmo much. Elevator flies better than any of the other hens. She often gets herself into places she can't get back from, and is very forlorn about it.

If you spend time with chickens, you discover that they don't all fit gender stereotypes 100% of the time. Granite seems to have her own way of being, which is perfect for her but isn't quite the same as the other hens. We thought Granite was a rooster when she was little. She had sharp feathers, a big comb, and a very confident walk - all traditional rooster traits. When she started laying eggs, we decided she must be a hen. She does fewer of the other henny activities, like dust bathing and guarding a nest.

I do not believe that we can model ourselves on animal behavior, however tempting. But I do believe that animals act on impulses that still live in us. If 9 chickens can each express sexuality a little differently, is it too much to believe that 7 billion people won't have a huge range of identities?

Written by Sarah
Revised and published by Noah


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