I like dogs and cats but I got to be honest and you may be surprised but I think chickens are the best pet you can have. Sounds weird but when these feathery soft birds prefer to walk past their food to instead sit in the lap of a child then immediately nestle down, close their eyes and go to sleep without a care in the world it is more than “imprinting”. It is a deep trust.
The other day when it was sunny outside, my daughter, Bre, sat down on the ground in the fenced in area where we keep our 20 or so chickens. She and some of my other children like to visit with the hens regularly. This time one of the “girls”, Rosey took her normal spot in Bre’s lap but did not go right to sleep. Bre put some pine straw on her lap like a little nest to make Rosey a more comfortable, thinking this would help her sleep. A few minutes later there was an egg in the little thatch of pine and Rosey was nudging it under her to keep it warm and safe. Not only did the bird trust my child with its own life but with that of its offspring.
Today Becca, another daughter of mine, brought an egg to me and said “Rosey laid this in Bre’s lap!” I, thinking it was the egg from the other day said “oh yeah I forgot to mention that to you” but Becca said “No. This one is from this morning. I just watched her lay it in Bre’s lap”. I was surprised but only for a moment. I have seen examples of this type of relationship with the hens many times and I know it goes far beyond trust. I believe it is love.
I have raised chickens off and on for most of my life. Even though I lived “in town”, I still managed to get at least one Easter chick from the local co-op or shoe store that was giving them away with a pair of shoes as a promotional gimmick. For me, learning to care for chicks has been a long lesson. I finally realized that the chicks pretty much raise themselves. All you have to do is give them some growing room along with food, water, and yes, love. This includes protecting them as much as possible from harm which again turns more into “assisting” than providing.
Many years later and I am an adult with much more experience and patience in knowing when to back away and let nature work its magic. However, I still learn something new about these beautiful creatures all the time. I researched and found that the ancestors of the domesticated chickens we see today were actually jungle dwelling fowl. They foraged in the tall grasses and other plants of the jungle floor and perched in lower hanging branches of trees to avoid danger. They are pretty self-sufficient animals. But it is a very true that if you love them and they love you, they will not stray far and always know the way home. In regards to chickens they will often see you as a fellow, feathered friend but just higher up in the “pecking order”. They come to rely on you to feed them when there is no other food. You give them shelter when there is none. They in return share so much of themselves but obviously their eggs and sometimes even their lives. I’m sure the latter is not quite voluntary but it is often necessary in life.
Personally, I have found that if you have an outdoors area without dogs or very many other natural predators (our cats usually stay clear of those strong beaks and talons) a chicken can take care of him or herself most efficiently. They will find their own food; they build their own nests and raise their own young. They can fly high enough into trees at night so that most animals leave them alone. The roosters do wake us up every morning but they also help find food for the hens, scratching where the food is and then standing guard and waiting until the hens have eaten before he has his meal. The chickens talk or sing to each other all throughout the day. It may seem like only “cackling” but chickens can make up to 30 unique vocal sounds and when they are young they sound more like song birds to me than large fowl.
I’ve also noticed that chickens are very inquisitive animals and will explore every inch of your (their) property including inside the house if you let them. One hen of ours slept on the railing at the front of the house. At dusk she would hop up there and go to sleep. Often, when coming in from shopping or working in the yard we would all give her a little pat on the back as we went into the house. In the morning she hopped down and started on her day long feeding. She was less of a cuddlier than some of our other hens but she was very much a part of our family and showed up in many random photos. Sometimes she was the subject of the picture but sometimes she was just there. Maybe we didn’t notice her at the time because she had become a natural part of our scenery. She was part of the fabric of our “farm living”.
Unfortunately you cannot always let your pets run free so you need to find them a safe place to live that is close enough to your home that they know they are still a part of the flock. The shelter does not have to be elaborate, just functional to a large, nesting bird. Some cliches speak of the blankness in a chicken’s eyes but when you are the protector and caregiver, they appreciate the things you do and will reward you with love and yes you can see the trust in their eyes.