Playing Chicken


There are a number of things chickens teach you about life.  Our mixed flock includes show bred Silkies, Belgian Bantams, a rescue hen of questionable lineage and two Isa Browns.  Years of observing these clever jungle birds has revealed many truths that transcend species and cross all party lines.

Behold then the Top 5 Chicken Truths brought to you by chickens everywhere.

Chicken Truth #1

There is no getting away from the pecking order.  

It is the same social profile as at surviving at the office, trying to get a promotion or getting service out of a car yard.  Some hens are smarter, stronger, prettier or closer to the rooster – or head hen – than others.  The closer you are to the source of peak power, the better your result. 

Whatever the competition for resources, the pecking order exists. Live with it.  Ignoring it, pretending there is no such thing as a pecking order or pretending that you ‘don’t let other people’s pecking orders define you’ won’t make it go away.  It just means you get pushed even further down the order as you deny the nature of the beast and the realities of the universe.  

If you are not careful the other hens will start pecking you and the whole flock will turn on you.  Then HR gets involved and it’s all over.  No matter what the injustice, no matter how unfair, you are the one who will be culled.

Chicken Truth #2

If you are not willing and able to fight for your fair share you will only get the crumbs.

Chickens never doubt this truth.  They know that they can suck up to the head hen or the rooster all they want but if they can’t defend themselves against the mob at feeding time they go hungry.  I cringe when I hear parents tell their children ‘you have to share!’

In this ruthless, corrupt capitalist system?  I don’t think so.

Teach them how to defend themselves against thieves and how to get what they need without paying too much. Otherwise they and their flock will spend their whole life ‘sharing’ what they have with others who will gladly take it for themselves and never give it back. They will rip the food right out of their mouths if they can get away with it.  Like wage theft and private operator tolls on publicly funded roads, they will spend their whole life paying twice for things they never get if they are on the bottom rungs of the roost.  See Chicken Truth #1.

Chicken Truth #3

Things aren’t always what they seem.

So many times I have watched a hen gleefully scratching up what looked to me like a useless stick or a piece of string that turned out to be a fat juicy worm or coveted insect.  Over millennia chickens have developed a keen sense of what is worth digging up and what is best left alone.   Food, drink, nesting material – they find it with ruthless, time honoured efficiency and waste no time procuring it.  Develop this skill and the world is indeed your oyster.  

Chicken Truth #4

The world is full of predators.

Chickens face threats from all directions.  Raptors that can fly off with an unwary free ranging chicken in it’s talons; magpies that will swoop and steal their food; snakes that will eat their eggs and chicks whole; foxes; dogs that aren’t Oddball.  

It’s the same for people.  It is a vicious circle.  The more successful you are, the more others want your spot / your partner / your job, the more successful you have to be to beat predators at their own game.  

Chickens can simultaneously look down with their left eye so as to find food, whilst looking up with their right eye in order to see predators coming.  This is a brilliant risk management skill that can only be learned, not taught.  That’s why experience s often trumps form in a fight.  They can’t land first punch if they don’t see you coming no matter how big and strong they are.

Chicken Truth #5

Never hide all your eggs in one basket.

You find eggs laid in the most impossible places.  How can a 2.5 kilo chicken lay eggs in a gap less than 5 x 10cm?  How do they form perfectly spherical nests that hold their shape in chaotic piles of straw?  Search me.  Even chook cam hasn’t given up the secrets of how they do this.  They lay under impossibly low things, in small gaps and behind nest boxes – you know, the vintage timber ones you bought on Buy, Swap and Sell full of clean straw that they never actually nest in.

They will go to the same secret spot in the garden and lay egg upon egg and you won’t know until the dog starts farting rotten egg gas and you have to trace the source.  Hence finding a pile of half eaten mixed with freshly laid eggs in a very well hidden place you didn’t even know existed.

You will never be allowed to see them actually lay in their secret spots.  It is secret chicken business and no human has ever fully solved it’s mysteries.  That is because chickens are not only smarter than people, they know people are predators.  They avoid us knowing where their eggs are because we keep eating them.  

Then eventually we eat the hen, too.  The human race is hell bent on eating ALL the eggs and ALL the chickens ALL the time.  We won’t be satisfied until there is no eggs and no chickens left at which point it won’t matter which came first the chicken or the egg.  We will have rendered both extinct with our greed.  Again.

But here’s the thing.  You know what’s really dumb about all this?

Not just that when our last day inevitably comes the human race will go down in a blaze of war and thirst and famine of it’s own making.  Not only that so many will remain convinced to the last we are of ‘higher intelligence’ than all we have destroyed.  Even dumber than praying to fake Gods for non existent afterlives while still utterly  convinced that literally 11,000 PhD scientists are wrong and there is no such thing as climate change and that you know you can unscramble an egg because it said so in the Daily Telegraph.

What’s really dumb is that the human race will blame the chickens.  

Which is so stupid, only a human could come up with it.