BACKYARD CHICKENS AND RELATIONSHIPS: WHAT I’VE LEARNED

I am newly single, coming out of a 12 year marriage. My gaze upon the world is constantly shifting as I analyze what it means to be a female. Nate’s and my backyard chickens have taught me a lot about men and women.

A couple of years ago I went to a local feed store to pick up newly hatched chicks. I bought nine and brought them home. I had read enough to know that a pecking order would ensue, and I knew about mean roosters. I assumed all of my chickens would be sweet since I am a nice person. I did not count on the fact that they would develop personalities outside of my care.

Rocky, the rooster, was the only chicken to get an official name. I think it’s because I needed something to scream while he forced adrenalin to rush through my body when he would chase me down. Even behind a fence he could stare me down and make my heart skip a beat with fear. He never successfully spurred me, but his numerous attempts were enough to scar me. I hated him. Despite not being a vegetarian, I couldn’t ever muster the courage to kill him or have him killed.

Until I started to notice the way he was always picking on one hen in particular. She didn’t seem as pretty as some of the other hens, maybe she was an easy target. Rocky had his way with all the hens, but he was especially cruel to the blonde one with the yellow highlights in her feathers. He would grab Blondie by the back of the neck and literally throw her down on the ground, get on top of her, and pound her for a couple of seconds. Then he would jump off and look to chase another. For some reason, Blondie was his favorite. The back of her neck was raw and her flight feathers were plucked down to the quills. 

I rarely let the chickens out to roam the yard because Rocky could spot me from half a football field away and charge at me. The morning I yelled obscenities at him while the church goers were making their way into the Methodist church next door, was finally the point at which I knew I nor Blondie could live this way anymore. 

I had a couple of teenage boys come over late at night and grab Rocky out of the coop. The whole idea was to kill him, and they did. The idea was not for me to be home, but I was. I heard Rocky’s desperate cry as they slit his throat with a dull knife. The guilt came, but I told myself that the hens, especially Blondie would be better for it. I was so wrong.

Blondie looks worse today then she did when she endured daily attacks from Rocky. The other hens took up where he left off. They gang up on her sometimes two or three at a time, pin her down, and peck her neck and back until she is raw, sometimes bleeding. How is it that the other female birds turned against her when they all were victims to Rocky’s cocky ways? Were they jealous that she had been the favorite? Females in my world tend to turn against each other when men are involved. It’s disgusting and petty.

Nate has chickens too, but his are nothing like mine. He has two huge (bigger than Rocky) roosters named Sir Edgar and Sir Ivan. They are gorgeous, fat, and shockingly friendly. None of his hens have been savaged. I have watched the way they interact with the hens, and it is kind and sweet. They will be out in the yard eating about when one will find a worm or a bug. Sir Edgar or Sir Ivan will take the critter writhing in his mouth to the hen that they want. The rooster will offer the critter to the hen. If she eats then he knows this as a sign that he can have his way with her. There is no grabbing, throwing, or savaging. The entire process is like watching a beautiful dance. Watching my chickens was like watching a prison riot where the prisoners turned on each other. 

I have learned a lot about respect, fear, and admiration by watching these two groups of chickens. Blondie is on the mend. She will get better. She spends most of her days roaming the yard alone away from the brood. She is very much Miss Lonely Bird, and I guess I see myself in her. That is why I will continue trying to help her mend because I am mending too.

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