If you’ve been hanging around my iNest column for any appreciable amount of time at all, you have probably surmised that I share my home with a flock of fine feathered fowl. Over the years, I have entertained you with tales of their antics, egg production, and the fact that they used to live in a ghetto-tastic Little Tykes playhouse, but I’ve not really touched on the philosophical aspect of chicken tending.
Maybe that’s because the words “philosophy” and “chickens” don’t often appear together in the same general proximity, but I suppose if you sit and stare at anything for long enough, you can find meaning or import in its existence. And when it comes to my observances of Waynoka, Corinne, Floris, Snow, Tulsa, Stella, Mazie, Marlow, Vera, and Velma, I can safely say that the Wisdom of Chickens is nothing to be taken lightly.
So what have I learned?
While chickens will basically eat anything that crawls, flies, swims, or just sits there and does nothing, their favorite foods are the ones that hit a little closer to home. They love to eat eggs. And they devour chicken meat with aplomb. There is zero hesitation in their beady little eyes whenever I toss a freshly cracked egg in their direction. They race each other to see who will get the best part (the yolk) and who will be left with only the shell. Never mind that that egg could be one of their unborn progeny!
There is no moral dilemma apparent on their faces when I chuck a roasted chicken leg out in the yard. Like the tiny dinosaurs they are, they tear into the meat with unabashed ferocity. Do they know that they’re eating one of their own? Probably. But they really just could care less.
What do chickens accomplish in a day that fills them with pride? Well, I’d be willing to bet chickens are secretly always proud of themselves, but the highlight of a hen’s day is when she manages to lay an egg. You’d think she’d just painted the next Mona Lisa or discovered a cure for cancer the way she carries on, announcing to the entire neighborhood that something wonderful just popped out of her posterior. She struts down the henhouse ramp and starts bagawking for all she’s worth.
Eventually, the other chickens join in, acknowledging her greatness. Then, your neighbor’s chickens join in. Before you know it, half of Paducah knows that someone, somewhere, laid an egg, and everyone shares in a moment of quiet awe and reverence that something so absolutely marvelous has happened in the world.
It’s around this time that I come out of my workshop and throw some corn out in the yard to get everyone to just shut the hell up.
But I suppose that if I was able to lay something as useful, lovely, and perfect as an egg, I’d squawk about it, too. For now, I’ll just stick to crowing about my far-less-impressive feats via Instagram.
You may remember meeting Floris in previous iNest articles, but as a refresher, Floris is my consummate “mother hen.” Mostly every spring, I give her a clutch of fertile eggs to hatch, because motherhood makes her world go ‘round. A couple of years ago, she hatched an odd looking little chick with feathered feet and a Mohawk. This chick grew up to be Mazie.
Two years later, Floris still leads Mazie around the yard, showing her where the best bugs and dust bathing spots are to be found. And sometimes at night, when it’s cold out, Floris gets on top of Mazie and covers her with her ample, feathery bosom in a bid to keep her warm and safe.
Does your own mother seem, at times, overbearing? Does she lead you from place to place, clucking encouragingly as she scratches in the dirt to uncover juicy worms and fat beetles for you to eat? Does she come over to your roost at night and sit on your head?
Let her. She loves you, and is showing you that in the best way she knows how.
We all go through rough patches. Sometimes, life really starts to resemble a country song. The car breaks down, the washing machine overflows, the dog runs away, and there’s a tear in your beer.
And sometimes, all your feathers fall out.
You wake up one morning, and your gorgeous plumage is lying all over the yard in sad, fluffy piles. Your neck is cold. Your butt is naked. Worst of all, the other hens are laughing at you behind your back.
First of all, take comfort in the knowledge that soon enough, their feathers will fall out, too. Then you’ll be the one strutting around, preening and feeling superior. But for now, there’s not much else you can do but hide under a shrubbery in shame.
While you wait for your feathers to grow back, practice good self-care. Try to boost your protein and calcium intake by eating some yogurt. Wallow in the best dirt patch you can find. If some of your friends are missing their feathers, too, commiserate with them.
Soon enough, you’ll have a full complement of gleaming, newly grown feathers covering your body once more. Eventually, you will be beautiful again. In the meantime, try not to end up as a mildly amusing Facebook meme.