The Social Life of Chickens

I’ve been painting chickens on the mural in Buggy Barn at Lehman’s. Because of this I’ve been spending more time than usual thinking about chickens.  In order to paint them realistically, I have been thinking of how they move, how they interact, how they sit and how they express themselves. Anyone who has had chickens knows they express themselves quite well and often times in amusing ways.  Being very social birds, they let their personalities be known and all those little sayings, ‘she cackles like a hen’, ‘she’s a mother hen’, or ‘he’s hen pecked’ came to me as I painted.  One hen I painted in particular brought back memories of our laying flock and the noise that came from those hens each day when they were laying.  The hen I painted is sitting in her laying box and has that bugged eyed look hens get just before they lay.  I can’t say I blame her!

It wasn’t until I had my own flock that I discovered the hens would lay about the same time each day.  And while they were laying, they make a certain chatter that seemed to build until the noise was quite loud, even deafening at times.  And I have to admit it did kind of remind me of a group of woman gathered with everyone talking excitedly all at once.

Another very vivid memory I have was a time when my kids were sent out to gather the eggs and they excitedly ran back to the house to give me a still wet egg that was laid just as they were gathering it!  For my young daughter, that was like hitting the jackpot!  Or the time after we had increased our flock of free ranging chickens to quite a large number and had them in an open mobile chicken coop in our cow pasture.  The coop had a large grain bin that needed to be filled every few days with chicken feed so we would go out on the ATV with a couple 50 lb grain sacks to fill the chicken feeder.  The kids, who were pretty young at the time, liked to pile on the ATV with me when we went out in the field.  The chickens would be scattered, hunting for insects all about the 20 acre pasture until they heard us coming.  At the sound of the ATV, knowing food was coming, would turn and RUN toward us.  If you have never seen 200 chickens running AT you it is quite a sight.  The louder and closer the ATV would get the faster the chickens would run until everywhere I looked I would see chickens waddling as fast as they could AT me.  My kids and I would be in tears laughing.  This became our ‘entertainment’ at the farm.

It was the good times like this that made the hard work of the farm worthwhile.  I will remember fondly my kids hanging on to me on the ATV like a bunch of little monkeys squawking and chackling like a bunch of hens! Back in the house when things might be getting a little hairy, homeschooling and caring for a preschooler and a toddler, I knew I had an ace in my back pocket.  When you’re done we can go FEED the CHICKENS!!  I had instant cooperation.  I guess you could say the chickens not only provided us with good eggs but also enriched our social life with warm memories!

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