A chicken may just be one of the dumbest animals on the planet. Yet, today I found that there is much to learn from them.
I spent a good part of my Sunday afternoon relaxing in a lounge chair just observing our new chicken yard. Here’s some background to my story.
About 6 weeks ago, we took delivery of 30 Guinea Hen Chicks. We nurtured them in a cardboard box on our back porch till they outgrew it. A couple weeks ago Joe and I built a chicken coop. As soon as it was ready we moved the Guineas to the new coop while we finished off the fence around the chicken yard.
Guineas are originally from Africa. They are self-sufficient, extremely hardy, voraciously eat bugs (particularly ticks) and are great watch “dogs”. Pretty good neighbors by all my criteria.
Joe has been raising some laying hens and a rooster that he offered to give us. A couple days after completing the fenced yard, we moved the chickens in after dark while they slept. That was Friday night. We put them on their roosts so that when they awoke the next morning they would find themselves in their new home. Joe even brought a box for a nest and a golf ball as a placebo egg. The ball is a cue to where they are supposed to lay. Sure enough, the next day we had 4 beautiful eggs next to the golf ball. That was Saturday and we had a repeat performance today. Nothing like truly fresh eggs.
The first day the chickens and guineas mostly ignored each other. Their second night together I found them snuggled up tightly on the roost. One chicken even had a guinea under her wing.
Today, I noticed that they had become much more segregated. One of the red hens has taken to intimidation, chasing the guineas all over the yard and out of the chicken house. But when it gets dark, they all end up in the house on the roost again, although this evening, at a greater distance. They seem to have noticed a difference. The guineas are about half the size of the chickens, but growing rapidly. When mature, they should be roughly the same size. It will be interesting to see who intimidates whom when size is no longer a differentiator, the chickens are outnumbered about six to one and the guineas have a tactical flight advantage.
The behavior I found most interesting today was guinean. Guinea hens are extremely social animals, running in a tightly packed flock. In this case, I thought they were acting quite human. I had laid out some straw in one corner of the yard. There was plenty there for all the guineas, but it was mostly ignored. One guinea chick randomly took an interest, plucked a single piece of straw from the pile and sprinted for the opposite end of the yard, shaking the straw violently in its beak. Suddenly, that piece of straw became highly desirable to the whole flock, improved as it was in form and function by the shaking. As many chicks as could get near the first guinea began trying to take it away, while continuing to ignore the straw pile. There ensued a mighty chase until the first guinea finally dropped the straw. On the ground, it immediately lost its appeal and the flock’s attention returned to scratching randomly in the dirt.
How similar are people who must have the latest chic’ (pun intended) gadget just because someone else has it. How they scurry frantically about until it it is either acquired or becomes unfashionably passe’. How quickly the cycle spends itself and we rush off in hot pursuit of some new object in a different direction!
Aah, the vanity, avarice and covetousness of men, guineas and chickens. Also, like the red hen, how quickly we seek to intimidate or exercise authority over others just because we can.
Observing chickens may be at the peril of your pride in the human species. You might conclude that we aren’t much smarter than they. On the other hand, maybe we could all learn from watching chickens and stop running around like, uhhhh……
a chicken with its head cut off?