In 2000, Mel Gibson played a lovable jerk of a guy in What Women Want, who serendipitously is given the “gift” of being able to hear women’s thoughts, and thereby understand how women think. I thought of this movie today when I was watching our hens; imagine being able to understand what’s going on in those tiny heads! The way they appear to haphazardly run around from one thing to the next, you might suspect they have no thought processes at all. On the other hand, there are those moments when they do something so comical it’s hard not to assign some humanistic quality to their actions. For instance, about the time when they reached the laying stage, we realized they were instinctively looking at us as the roosters among them – when we approach, they go into a squat position, shake their booties and spread their wings out a little, getting into ‘position.’ Since we don’t have a rooster any longer, we thought what the heck, give ‘em a little pat on the rear end a few times, try to assimilate what it is they’re expecting, and see what happens. The first time we tried this, our little red hen stood back up to her fullest height once our pat-down subsided, and fluffed out her feathers with a bit of a shake and shiver. I wanted to offer her a cigarette. All the other hens gathered around her, making questioning sounds as she strutted her stuff (“How was it? Did it hurt? Was it good?”) It was so comical to watch.
But seriously, what do chickens want? I don’t know about city chickens who can’t leave their small coops, but our chickens clearly enjoy free ranging. They call us and stand by the door of the run, and when I open it, they literally run out, with a bit of flapping of wings and jumping and even a half second of flying for some. Their greatest joy seems to be in grazing in the yard and accompanying gardens, and giving themselves dust baths wherever they can find a patch of dirt. They joyfully run after moths (catching them on the run I might add) and if they’re feeling bored, will chase the occasional robin who dares to walk among them.
They want social hierarchy, and they achieve it by being aggressive, pecking at any bird who is in their way. Hence the term, “pecking order.” Unfortunately, our three youngest chicks, being several months younger than the rest, have never been able to assimilate themselves into the larger group of hens. They are told in no uncertain terms to keep away, and usually get the very last of a treat, if anything. I go out of my way to find them huddled under the magnolia, one of their favorite hideouts, and bring them their own treat.
They want places to sit, or roost, that are comfortable (2x4s work well) and the latest cool spot for them to perch is on top of the wheelbarrow leaning against the shed, but the hammock clearly holds a fascination for many of them, having found them perched on one end or the other, and sometimes walking across it.
They want to dig, and usually trek out to the farthest corner of our lot to the compost pile, sort of a mosh pit of chickens in late afternoon. They find lots of worms and spiders and other bugs to eat and this makes them happy.
As Orren Fox, a teenaged chicken owner and blogger (Happy Chickens)puts it, “Happy chickens lay healthy eggs,” and that appears to be true! Give a chicken what she wants, and she will reward you.