Animal Guide: Chicken

January 11, 2019

Part of my goal for this year is getting to know the world right around me, the suburban country wilderness full of ticks and poison ivy and other genuinely great stuff like deer and mushrooms and porcupines. I've always been interested in tracking, and botany, but have spent more time poking around through books than the woods. So to motivate myself to get out more, I figured I'll write about one animal per month.

As you meander about your immediate surroundings, you will find yourself encountering many other entities from which there is much to learn. Here in New England in Winter though, the pickings are slim. We've got coyotes, squirrels, and the occasional hungry hawk, but somehow it seems more appropriate to start with a beloved creature in the domestic arena who's close enough to visit in slippers: the not-so-wild chicken.

What, you ask, can you learn from the chicken? 

1. Love is everywhere. Have you ever hugged a chicken? No? What's wrong with you? Even though they're basically feathered little dinosaurs, chickens are incredibly cuddly. Even an aggressive little asshole of a bantam rooster, if you pick him up, will settle down and snuggle. Ok, maybe he's just pissed off and mildly worried, but so what--love is complicated.

2. Cheerios are freaking awesome. Put a bowl of cereal out for your chickens, and they'll go wild. Sometimes the simple things are the best.

3. Everything has a soul. The next time you meet a chicken, get down on the ground and HAVE A MOMENT with it. In fact, FIND A CHICKEN RIGHT NOW.  It may try to eat your face, but don't let that stop you; it's just curious. It's very easy to underestimate the basic chicken, but if you look in their eyes you'll find a remarkable intelligence and personality. Every chicken is different, and they're all lovely.

4. Everything is transitory. Or, as someone who may not want to be credited for his contribution puts it, "they taste really good deep-fried." Over the years, I've had many rounds of chickens who have perished from varied causes including, occasionally, old age. I have given a chicken a sitz bath, have hand-fed a dying rooster, and put one chicken, fed on by a small hawk, out of its misery (just after eating KFC. That was not fun). I have loved them all, even Louis MF, who used to attack me mercilessly. No matter how much you get attached to them, they always die eventually, and it's always the kids' "favorite one" who goes first.

5. Attitude is everything. Have you ever had every unit of mulch in your yard destroyed by a roaming band of marauding free-range chickens? Have you ever had a bantam rooster the size of a roll of toilet paper attack your ankles? Have you ever seen a chicken make your husband really angry by discovering the fence he just put up and doing an end-run around it just to see what's there? Chickens appear to be mild-mannered, but they know to make the most of what they've got.