All my chooks in a row

Where’s…Betty, Popcorn, Dora?

Dora, Betty and Popcorn keep together most of the time. Betty who has grown quite plump is not laying eggs – or not viable ones. She does not move about as much as the others, often sitting on the door mat, but is still quick to run for food or to see if I have a treat. Dora (named for the explorer) will occasionally go off on her own over the fence into the front garden – or into the house given half a chance. Otherwise, wherever you see one the others aren’t far away.

I think Popcorn is top of the pecking order, but they all get on well. I hear a bit of a kerfuffle (a perfect word for chooks) in their little house as they settle for the night. Did you know they can sleep with one eye open? How to Speak Chicken by Melissa Caughey (see last post) informed me that the chook nearest the door keeps an eye out (perhaps this is where the expression originated) for possible intruders. They rotate positions so that each chook gets to be in the middle and have both eyes closed for part of the night. This characteristic, along with their ability to melt away into the cover of undergrowth, dates back to their ancestor – the Burmese jungle fowl. They have one eye designed for close up viewing and the other for scanning the sky for potential danger.

The weekend before last, I observed them sitting in a row for their morning preening.

Left to right: Betty, Popcorn, Dora.

These rescued chickens will live out their lives here whether or not they continue to lay eggs. Having read This Chicken Life by Fiona Scott-Norman (see previous post) I am more aware of the hard life most “utility breed” chickens have, being bred and selected for their eggs and meat. Popping out an egg a day takes a toll on these hens and they do not live long – perhaps two years. If they are “broilers”, bred so large they collapse with their own weight, they only live for a number of months. I wonder if Betty is getting a little depressed, knowing she is not producing eggs and waiting for “the chop”.

“Did someone say ‘the chop’?”

This Chicken Life recommends heritage breeds for backyard flocks. They don’t lay as often but having a few more of them can compensate. Of course, if you want them to live as they really should, you need a rooster, which isn’t allowed in urban areas. Some of the chicken fanciers in the book get around this by keeping their roosters in a box or sound-proofed garage over night. The heritage breeds come in all sorts of dramatic colours and sizes (as do their eggs) and they can live to be teenagers.

The book shows how chooks bring joy and comfort to all sorts of people: the sick, the elderly, people needing mental health support, people with physical disabilities, prisoners, children who are bullied, children who are autistic, school children generally, people who rescue them, artists who paint their portraits, an actor who includes them in her comedy acts, those who photograph them in fetching poses, show them, judge them, crotchet hats for broody chooks and a woman who manufactures wheelchairs for injured birds. This woman has a trailer called a “Pull-et” for taking her chooks on holiday with her. Many say how they enjoy their backyard “chicken television” at the end of a working day. Even the Queensland Parliament has an Eggsembly of chooks which is a highlight of open days at Parliament House in Brisbane.

There is something natural, primal even, and calming about chooks.

[Quite Interesting Note: “primal” is also a word for a large feather on a bird’s wing.]

At the moment of writing, Dora, Popcorn and Betty are having dust baths together. They scratch away the damp surface to find the dry soil beneath and settle into little bowls of dust, fluffing their feathers and dozing.