Tuesday, February 05, 2008

chickens on the run

OK, let’s start out with an important question.

Actually, after all things are considered, its probably one of the most important questions there is in life (especially if you were a chicken). The answer to which could be a matter of life or death.

Or, if not that, if not a life or death decision, how about a ’‘should I play it safe and follow the pack (in this case flock) or should I stand here all by myself looking to everyone else like a first class fool. And if not completely a fool, definitely sticking out as a nonconformist, a loner, not a member of the team, possibly a traitor, definitely not one of the (in this case) girls.

And with chickens where there are often rewards for the first one there (related to the early bird and who gets the worm) but seldom do good things happen to the last one, the loner, the individual the one that doesn’t join in.

I’ve apparently started us down the path to one of those high school English teacher questions. One that goes under a Values Clarification heading. One where the teacher asks you to consider a situation where you have to make a decision, a choice and then justify how you came up with your answer, usually in essay form.

But, fortunately, I’m not going to ask you to write an essay.

Instead, I was going to write this story in the form of an early readers. Sort of like Run Dick Run. See Jane Run. Only it would go something like.

See the bird. See the big brown bird.

Big brown bird has big strong feet.

Big brown bird has big dangerous beak.

Big bird is high in the sky but ...

And it was about then I realized I didn’t have very many b words to describe breaking and bashing bones and dropping dangerously down on carelessly chirping chickens.

So I’ll just tell it straight. I’ve been sitting at the computer for the past week or so trying to get a manuscript in some sort of shape and find myself staring off out the window at the chickens.

I’ve set up the pasture with the mobile chicken house on one end and the feeders at the other. It’s all surrounded with that anti-predator/ keep the poultry in, portable electric fencing they make in Germany.

Doing it this way, I’m accomplishing several things. First the laying hens get to be outside. There is no comparision between an egg layed by a chicken locked up in one of those chicken factories and a chicken that’s outside on pasture pecking around.

You can just break an egg open and look at the color to see the difference.

But beside that, forcing those chickens to walk the length of their pasture to eat gets the chickens out there eating the weeds and weed seeds(without the weeds the field is a lot easier to farm, and then there’s the manure. chicken manure carefully deposited from one end of the field to the other. Natural manure spreaders.

A somewhat cunning idea, I thought. That was until last week when I was staring out the window and saw at one moment most of the chickens were down at the far end of the field and then suddenly, with no warning, they all turned and make a mad dash for the other end and the hen house.

One moment the pasture is full of something like 250 laying hens, a dozen guineas, half a dozen turkeys, a few roosters and then suddenly, nothing.

The pasture’s empty.

They’re all gone.

I get up from my desk (always looking for an excuse) and go to the other window where I have a better view of the henhouse and there they are. all of them inside, peering out.

Looking at something.

But nothing I can see.

Several hours pass and the chickens are out again. Doing what chickens do. Chasing each other, scratching, pecking, eating and then it happens again.

All of them take off running. Some of them flying. Going as fast as they can from one end of the pasture to the other only where they disappear inside.

And this goes on and on, over and over again. For the past week. I’ve gone outside several times to see what’s up. What’s causing the stir and bother. I look up in the sky, over in the trees.

Nothing.

Maybe the chickens are seeing something I’m not seeing. Maybe there’s a hawk out there. Or maybe a fox back in the woods.

And then maybe there’s nothing at all. Maybe its just yet another example of group think. Mass hysteria.

I mean, imagine you’re out there, one in a flock of chickens. One of your kinds lucky ones. Or in this case, one of the lucky two hundred and fifty.

No small cage for you. No small cage for you and two or three others. Instead of being the biological component of an efficient chicken laying factory (how else do you think egg prices can be so low?) you are one of those lucky pasture raised laying hens where you have almost an acre of pasture to cavort around in. Running around, socializing with all of your buddies. Making friends, enemies, pecking orders.

And here we are, you and your 250 closest friends out scratching and pecking and squawking way far away, maybe 300 or 400 feet away from the entrance to your home and shelter.

You, personally, have been scratching at a particularly promising clump of grass, thinking that right under the surface there might be a delicious morsel, maybe a great big tender blood worm or cricket or something just as juicy and tasty when suddenly you look up and you are no longer standing around in a group.

No, just like that, you are all by yourself, and everyone else, all 299 of them, are running and flying and jumping as fast as they can across the pasture back toward the henhouse.

The closest one of the quickly retreating chickens is already ten or twenty yards away from you and

What do you do?

Do you run after then, flap your wings and skirt the ground, racing them back home?

Or do you just stand there. Look around. Ask yourself, what is it everyone’s running from. I don’t see anything.

What would you do? What would you do if you were a chicken? A human? And why?

Sounds like a good essay assignment to me. I can just imagine a teacher turning to his class of tenth graders and saying. ‘I want you all to write a short essay. Be sure to use the elements we’ve been discussing for the past week.

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