Lessons learned from raising chickens

I used to think that everything in life could be related to the TV show Seinfeld. But now I wonder if, in fact, everything in life is relatable to chickens.

Chickens have changed me. In the short time we’ve had our backyard barnyard (nearly four months), they’ve provided me more joy and perspective on life than I ever could have imagined.

There’s a reason humans domesticated these quirky birds, and it’s not just for their meat and eggs. They really are amusing little creatures with individual personalities. In no particular order, here are some lessons I’ve learned (so far) from our Chicken Five (with posthumous honors paid to the one that was murdered by our dog).

The simple pleasures in life are worth savoring.

There’s something to be said for making your own fun, and chickens are well-suited for that.

Take, for example, the ingenious use of a backyard hammock as a chicken roller-coaster. Yes, the chickens turned our hammock into an instrument for their own amusement.

It all happened on a windy day, when I looked out the kitchen window in time to see Little Jerry (of course) fly up and ride the hammock for a few swings and then jump off, careening across the yard. Then another chicken followed suit, and Little Jerry came back for another try.

Discovering that chickens love the hammock led me to try sharing it with a few of them. The only taker was Nugget (my favorite chicken), who happily bawked a few times, eyeballed me with her beady little green eyes and then calmly sat on my lap as we gently rocked in the breeze.

I tell you, relaxing on the hammock with a chicken in your lap is just good, clean fun. Even if your neighbor snaps a photo of it with his smartphone and calls you a crazy chicken lady.

There’s always something to be thankful for.

Whether it’s a grasshopper, a cricket or a watermelon rind, chickens are always thrilled about whatever is at hand (or beak, rather).

I’ve never seen a more-excited creature than a hen cackling at a shiny black cricket bouncing about. And my small flock goes insane for overgrown cucumbers, scooping out the jellied seeds and scraping all the flesh from the skin until it’s paper-thin.

Forgive and forget.

There’s a lot of pecking going on in establishing the pecking order these days, but once it’s done, the chickens seem to get on with life. There’s no room for holding grudges. There’s no, “You pecked me in the eye!” or, “You scratched me with your gargantuan talons!”

There might be squawking over a choice corncob at breakfast, but by nightfall they’re all snuggled together to roost. Chickens get over it and move on quickly.

Find comfort in routine and your small piece of the world.

I can’t think of another creature with as predictable a day as a chicken. Wake at sunrise, gobble breakfast, preen feathers, scratch around for stuff to peck at and swallow. Gobble more food, poop, take a dust bath, run around the yard, hide from an airplane’s shadow you think might be a hawk. Gobble more food, poop some more and everyone roosts when the sun goes down. And they get up again and do it again the next day, and they seem so happy about it.

Maybe that’s why I find it so relaxing to watch chickens. It’s like watching one of those shifting-sand paintings that you invert and watch to see the sand slowly trickle down to the bottom of the frame and make a new pattern as the grains settle. Every time you turn it over, the sand rearranges itself, but it’s always going to be sand.

Predictable things you can check in and out with easily are comforting that way. Chickens will always be chickens, repeating their routine, and they’re predictable enough that if you look away for a moment, you can look back and not feel like you missed much.

It’s like watching the Weather Channel, with more drama, flair and personality.

And so, I look forward to more lessons in the school of chicken wisdom. Little did I know I could learn so much from so-called birdbrains.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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Love this one. It would make a nice kitchen sign.

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