I turned everything off today. The television, social media and unplugged. I decided to take the kids and get a breath of fresh air and visit the neighbors. With eggs in tow, we decided to slow down and visit with the neighbors. We decided to spread joy.
We keep a mixed flock. We have standard sized hens and bantams. Silkie Bantams to be exact, as we like to call them-our Chinese chickens. The standard girls are big and bossy. They are always the ones jockeying their position for food, treats and human attention. The little Silkies, all four of them, tend to keep a bit back. They don’t mind. They are completely content not taking center stage in our menagerie of chickens. It is almost as if they are a mini-flock within the larger flock. Sometimes, with all the brouhaha of Oyster Cracker continually jumping into my lap with an insatiable appetite for attention, Tilly chatting up a storm, and the chaos of treat time the Silkies are easy to overlook.
Our three year old Silkie Hen, Dolly, has long time been one of my favorite girls. I know I shouldn’t play favorites but this little lump of fluff has found her way into my heart. I’m not quite sure if it is the way she mothers so beautifully or the gentleness about her. She is patient. She is kind and she is wonderful with the kids. She is giving and generous and keeps an eye out for the other Silkies. I have never told the kids about my personal feeling about her and the girls. I didn’t want them to know that I secretly had my favorites.
Yesterday I had my eldest go out to the coop to let the girls out, toss in some scratch and check for eggs. When he came inside, as the soon to be aloof double digit kid could only share…”You know Mom, I never realized this, but Dolly is one of my favorite hens.” I could feel my heart smile.
My heart was smiling because to a boy whose life is consumed with school, his peers and the normal pressures of growing up has taken the time to notice our small unassuming, easy-to-miss little hen. Sometimes it is the little things in life that really make the biggest impact. Love knows no size. Love has no boundaries except those that you place on it.
In times when there is so much animosity, violence, sadness, mistrust, political unrest and economic woes I find it difficult to learn of new struggles somewhere in the globe everyday. I don’t like to watch the news on the television anymore. The stories that they tell are predominantly of strife. Instead on warm summer evenings, I’d rather turn on the Chicken TV!
You see, most things are right in my world of chickens.
For the most part, everyone gets along. There is an occasional tiff over a freshly found worm, a favorite nesting box take-over or having first dibs on fresh treats from the kitchen but no one takes to violently harming or killing another.
They have respect for one another. They understand one another’s position in the flock and know that each position that is held is necessary for the flock to run smoothly.
The awkward teenage years are short lived.
No one goes hungry or thirsty.
Everyone has a bedtime snack.
They feel safe at night locked up in their coop.
They always wake up in a wonderful mood, happy to live another day and enjoy the outdoors.
Family is important. They are always together.
They seek comfort and companionship. Even on the warmest of summer evenings, they still nuzzle together close as can be up on the perches.
They enjoy the art of relaxing.
They love a good nap.
They like to be clean and take elaborate long baths in the dust. Sometimes a few bathe together.
They believe in sharing. The roosters always give up their precious finds to the ladies.
Chivalry is not dead. It is alive and well in all flocks with roosters.
They don’t have iphones or any other distracting electronic devices.
They are colorblind and can live harmoniously in a flock with many different breeds.
The chickens make me laugh, especially Oyster Cracker these days.
Early in the mornings, I see her peeking out the coop window, looking for me. As the others are busy laying eggs, eating and waking up, there she sits perched in the coop calling out to me with her eyes. “Hey, open the door already!”
When I do go and open them up, she is usually one of the first ones out. It just has to be that way. Usually, she comes out simultaneously through the little coop door with one of the Sikies. Yet yesterday, she came out at the same time as Sunshine. There they were my two Buff Orpingtons. The were carrying on, stuck in the door for a moment squawking to one another as they held up the entire morning parade of chickens through the coop door. Finally, with a bit of chicken team work and wiggling, they all made their way into the run.
Each morning, Oyster Cracker is the first one to hop up on one of the logs in the run and quickly survey the scene. Today, as I collected eggs she spied our puppy, Sara. She let out the biggest alarm. Then ran over to Sara, investigated and suddenly remembered, Oh, I know you! Then as Sara sniffed at her through the hardware cloth, Oyster Cracker carried on the sweetest cooing conversation with her. I wonder what they chatted about?
Later this morning, I weeded out the garden. I tossed into the run some kale, swiss chard and lettuce that was a bit past its prime. As the rest of the flock dove into the goodies like heat sinking missiles. Oyster Cracker was content to hop up into my lap and sit for a spell. Hot, heavy and feathered beyond anyone’s most extravagant boa, sat my girl. Usually my most greedy girl, she decided that she would rather be showered with affection today.
As my body felt like melting in this unbelievable heat wave and under her luscious plumage, I could feel my heart melting more. I didn’t think it was possible to love them anymore than I already do. Yet, each time my heart melts, I think it grows bigger and changes. I guess that is just the way things work. It is the way nature reworks the mold. It sculpts us, forges us, changes us and teaches us. Some of the greatest lessons are learned with our hearts. What has melted yours lately?
Unspeakable tragedies have been occurring all over the United States. My heart is heavy and my mind is distracted from everyday things. To say that life has been easy would be an understatement-Boston, Texas, a dear family friend whose husband’s parents were taken in a freak accident last week and a family member that clings to life in the hospital. These days are trying. I find that somehow when visiting the chickens these things, if only for a moment, melt away from my mind. My flock and friends’ flocks have changed, faced predators, and suffered sad and painful losses sometimes with mass casualties These birds continue to teach me more about life each day and for that I am grateful.
Each Day is a New Day. No matter what happened yesterday, the sun will always rise, life will always be filled with new opportunities and new adventures. Seize the Day. Always make each day a good one. Seek the silver linings even in the gloomiest of days.
Let you heart find closure. Saying forever goodbyes or dealing with tragedy is one of the most difficult things that we face as human beings. Find a place in your heart to keep the happy memories.
Camaraderie. Being alone during these difficult times is not the answer. Seek comfort with family and friends and begin to make new memories to replace the hurt. Persevere. Continue on never forgetting yet don’t fill your days with dwelling on the past.
Be Brave. Face your fears head on. Stand tall and protect those smaller than you.
Believe in the good of those around you. (Unless of course, you live with my friend Lauren’s chicken, Lil’ White.) Time heals.
I owe a lot to my flock of chickens that we have kept for almost 2 years now. As amazing as it seems, they have taught and reminded my family about life. I’m ashamed to say that, prior to owning chickens, I did not know what their value truly was except for putting meat on the table and producing eggs. All of that has now changed.
The girls that are left from the original flock, Tilly, Oyster Cracker, Sunshine and Feathers, share a special bond with me. I raised them as day old chicks and taught them how to grow into chickens the best that I could. Many things came instinctually to them, scratching, pecking and eventually roosting. Yet, sitting outside the brooder, spending time together and talking to them the best I could, seems to have allowed us as a family to share a special bond with these four girls. We acquired Dolly at 4 months of age, when she had already learned the basics. Overtime, Dolly has grown to love us and respect us, yet I don’t think she views us the same as the other four. Our last two, Dottie Speckles and Fifi both were raised by Dolly during her last clutch. They imprinted on her and she will always be their mother, still they have learned to feel comfortable with us from the other chickens.
Chickens are incredibly sweet. They enjoy being loved. Some more than others. Some are content to sit in your lap,willingly receiving affection while others are happy just to catch a quick pat on the run. They are intelligent. I read somewhere that chickens have over 30 distinct words/phrases that mean several things. They try to communicate with me. To this day, I try to emulate what they say to me, especially Tilly. I know the song they sing when they lay their eggs. I know when they call to me to come visit them when I am out in the yard. I know their call of alarm and fear. I know how they purr contently at night when I am tucking them in and locking them up. I have learned parts of their language and they have learned parts of ours.
To date, with almost 20 years of experience, my professional career in medicine continually opens my eyes. Initially, my lessons were not only filled with medical courses and learning techniques, but with years of classes in sociology, anthropology, psychology and the like. Yet once I started caring for patients I came to a realization. It took me experiencing the lives of others to realize what is valuable in life. It is not about running the rat race. It is not how much money you make or the car you drive. It comes down to relationships. The love, family and friends that you have surrounding you in the end and living each day to the fullest, living in the moment and never in the past or the future.
I never thought that keeping chickens could teach all of those things too, but they have. Their lives are simple. They seize the day everyday. They live with gusto and a spring in their step. They are eternally happy and melt any sadness or glum in my heart when I see them. They live intelligent lives never sweating the “small stuff”. They have complex relationships among themselves that comes with ups and downs. They are loving toward one another and show deep care and concern when another is sick or injured. They are nurturing and always watching out for one another. The have great work ethics and fulfill their roles within the flock. This is their flock mentality. Their material needs are simple; food, water, and shelter. In their day to day lives, they have everything that humans strive for in the end. Yet, often us intelligent humans are blinded by life’s distractions.
I am incredibly thankful for our flock. I am thankful for these reminders and new lessons that my young children are learning. In a world today that is becoming more and more fast paced and complicated, life’s true joy still comes from the relationships that you share with others. Life is as complicated as one makes it. True happiness is attainable. Sometimes, figuring out how to find it can be as simple as watching chickens.
Life’s lessons begin as the mother hen talks to her eggs