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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Chicken Psychology 101

© Another Day in the Country

The past few days were lovely and warm, full of sunshine; but my backyard chickens were nowhere in sight.

“I just don’t see them coming outside,” I said to my sister. “Something is wrong with them. I think I’ll take them some treats to cheer them up.”

Exiting the back door with treats in hand, I called to my hens, “Here chick, chick, chick.”

Usually, they’d all come running, but there was no response. A little chill of alarm ran down my spine. Had something actually happened to them?

Then a bright red comb came into view. I could see the Duke looking out the little low chicken exit, watching me advance with goodies.

“What the heck,” I mumbled. “Is he not letting the hens out the door?”

I called again.

There must have been some heated conversation going on inside between Duke and the ladies because he backed away from the door and one of the Polish Topknots stuck her head out to make sure it was me.

“C’mon chick, chick,” I coaxed, tossing my offerings onto the ground.

No one rushed outside.

Polish Topknots can have a very regal manner. She looked disdainfully at the leftover tabouli salad I’d tossed on the ground teeming with fresh green parsley and wheat berries that I would have thought would be just their thing. With a toss of her head feathers, she ducked back inside.

“Really,” I questioned the lot of them.

Maybe if I opened up the big door, let fresh air and sunshine into the little house, they would see what a lovely day it was and come on outside.

Duke came out, finally. He walked around the chicken yard without saying a word, surveying the yard, checking out what I’d tossed in to them. He sampled the tabouli, went back inside and so did I — each to our own house.

“You know the other day when I brought scraps over to them, I found them already roosting and it wasn’t even 4 o’ clock yet,” Jessica said.

I had noticed that, too.  I’d go by the hen house, decide to check because I couldn’t see them and find the girls already perched high in the rafters looking down at me with Duke down on a lower perch guarding the door.

“Guarding the door,” makes him sound noble. I’m not sure that’s what is going on.  It could be just that there simply isn’t any more room up on the high rafters, or maybe he can’t even fly that high anymore.

My grandson called me on FaceTime Sunday afternoon, “My chicks are all feathered out,” he said, panning the phone so that  I could see them scratching away in my daughter’s entry garden. “How are yours?”

“I think mine have posttraumatic stress disorder,” I told him.

“From what,” he wanted to know.

I reminded him of the horrors they had endured a month ago with the pit bull invasion and the raccoon attack.

“They don’t even want to come out of the house,” I said. “I think they are depressed, although I’m not sure that chicken depression is even possible.  I do know that chickens can be stressed out.”

My flock of three hasn’t been laying since August. I assumed it was because they were molting or since they are three years old and counting, perhaps it is chicken menopause.

While it might have started as the molt, I think it is now a more serious malady, PTSD.  I got out one of my chicken manuals, “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens,” and flipped to the index: “Death,” “Debeaking,” “Deep frying,” “Defects,” “Depreciation”…

The index went on with “dirt flooring,” “dirty eggs,” and “diversified farming,” which was then beyond my research interest. Nothing about depression.

“I think that these hens need a change of scenery,” I told Dagfinnr. “Maybe it would be a good idea to put them over with the girls in the Big Hen House.”

“What about Duke,” my grandson wanted to know.

“Well, in many households around here he’d get served for dinner,” I told him. “But that won’t happen here.”  

It is a dilemma! I don’t want to introduce Duke into a dorm full of young teenage hens, however, I definitely think the three older girls would fit in nicely, yet I hesitate leaving him alone. What do I do?

Something to ponder during another day in the country.

Last modified Nov. 21, 2019

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