Funny & Humble Chicken Lessons

We got snow last night and the picture shows it on the mobile chicken coop.
Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
Can you learn from ants and chickens? You can if you have eyes to see. I'll share some lessons I learned, but first here's a little video I took of ants hauling away a scorpion I had smashed. 
Ants Eat Scorpion?
They say that when you're starting a new endeavor such as taking on animals you should start small. That way it's a lot less costly in time, energy, and money as you go through your learning curve. I think that's sound advice and that's why we started with a small chicken flock.

A few weeks ago we moved the chicken paddock the first time and I led all the chickens into the new paddock with their treats. All the chickens, that is, except Java, the alpha hen. We coaxed and herded and chased her until she went into some inaccessible mesquite thickets. I'm sure it was quite the spectacle! I gave up. She wandered around outside for a couple hours until she finally wanted in.

All was well until bedtime when one of the roosters, Rocky, flew over the electric fence and went across the trail back to the old paddock. No amount of coaxing and prodding would get him back in and he eventually ran off into the night! I assumed a coyote would enjoy a chicken dinner.

Amazingly, Rocky was back in the old, empty paddock in the morning! He stayed out of the new paddock all day, foraging all around it, wandering around the old paddock - particularly where the coop had been - distracting and setting a bad example for the others. I nicknamed him Rocky the Rebel, speculating that he may be planning a coup. I figured he'd be thirsty but multiple attempts failed to get him back in. Finally at bedtime he wanted in and he went straight into the coop. 

I had been frustrated at these rebellious chickens until I remembered that I had actually wanted to let the chickens free range but had put all the time, energy, and money into a coop and electric fence for their own protection. So I resolved that if any of them wants to free range, it will be at their own risk.

Rocky Prevails After Bloody Revolution

Turns out my suspicions about Rocky had some truth to them. Old Whitey was the "king of the hill." That is, he was the top dog, er chicken, the alpha rooster. That's him on top of the compost pile (picture below) where I put their treats so they scratch it all to pieces. Until I taught them to share a while back, Whitey would always eat all the treats he wanted. I recently threw a giant grub in and witnessed him identify it and then call the hens over to enjoy it. He can be a real gentleman!
Old Whitey, King of the Hill
But we rescued a new rooster a couple weeks ago who had taken on a turkey. I named him Turkey Fighter, or Turkey for short. In spite of his reputation Turkey is smaller than all our existing chickens so I wasn't sure how things would go. After re-homing him and keeping him separate for four days I combined him with the flock at bedtime so they would hopefully all just go to sleep and then work out the new pecking order in the morning. No such luck. 

As soon as the flock was combined they were all over Turkey like white on rice. I managed to get them all locked in the coop but it sounded like a war zone inside. In the little bit of dusk light it looked like they were bouncing off the walls like some kind of cartoon.

When I opened the door in the morning they all went running out for their treats - all except Whitey and Turkey. I stooped down to look inside and was horrified to see blood everywhere! Whitey was standing near the entrance, head covered in blood, and Turkey was in the back. As I was trying to process what I was seeing Turkey walked passed Whitey and left.

I was dumbfounded. What happened inside that coop overnight? Did Turkey do that to Whitey? How could this be? 

Whitey walked out and the other chickens caught my attention. One of the hens was picking on Turkey. He's definitely not the new ruler of the flock. And then I saw Rocky picking on Whitey who seemed to be in a stupor. Upon closer inspection it looked like Whitey couldn't see well because of all the blood.

We removed Whitey and decided to try cleaning his wounds. Turns out a spot on his comb was the only thing bleeding, but it had obviously started the night before because it had run down over both of his eyes and dried one totally shut and the other mostly shut. Once his head was bleeding all the other chickens probably took turns pecking at it because that's what chickens do.

It wasn't easy to get the dried and fresh blood off, but with patience I got most of it. We put him in the coop with food and water and locked the others out to give him a chance to recover. That afternoon I let him out. He had standoffs with all the chickens except Rocky and prevailed until a couple ganged up on him. He stayed clear of Rocky, fleeing and hiding in the bushes.

Rocky wouldn't let him in the coop when it was bedtime until I approached. Then Whitey rushed inside and stuffed his head in the crack between the nest box and the wall. In the morning he rushed to hide in the bushes where he apparently stayed without food and water all day. Again Rocky wouldn't let him in the coop that night and his body was laying beside it when I went to lock it up.

I went and told the girls and when we came back he was gone. He had managed to get into a bush, but had apparently collapsed, probably from the lack of food and water and the blood loss he had experienced.

We segregated Whitey and provided the necessities to see if he could make it. Sure enough, within a couple days he seemed to have recovered and was even crowing back and forth with the others. We weren't sure if he could be reintegrated or not but we wanted to make every effort so we tried again. Everyone chased him into the bushes where he stayed for an hour or so until we decided we had to cull him.

Creatures of Instinct

The Bible says animals have a soul (not eternal like man's), which means they have emotions to be sure, but they operate mostly from instinct. Injured or sickly members of a chicken flock must be driven away so they don't attract predators and endanger the whole flock.

I think I may have gone a little far in personifying them. A friend asked why we name our food. I don't plan on it when we get bigger flocks, but it seemed useful for these few adult birds so we know what we're talking about as we go through our learning curve.

But I was thinking about what other lessons we could learn from this. One of the lessons we learn from history is that man often acts like animals, particularly when it comes to power and bloody revolutions that typically replace one dictator with another. The American War for Independence was different. It replaced a tyrant with a constitution that delegated limited powers to a federal government and kept all others in the "free and independent states."

People say the Constitution is old fashioned. I say that what's old fashioned is tyranny. That's been the norm of human experience throughout the world and throughout the ages. What's new is a system of government that was limited to its proper role of protecting the God-given rights of the people. Over the last century or so we have allowed it to usurp vast new powers and put us on a trajectory to end up like everyone else.

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