THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
City folks don’t get it.
None of my old friends blink when I tell them I’ve learned valuable life lessons from my horses and my dogs, but eyes widen and heads shake like bobble-toys when I say I’ve gotten valuable perspective from my chickens. Here’s my thinking:
Everyone knows chickens have a pecking order, but how many people know how it’s established?
My observations (Hey, who needs a life anyway? I came here to commune with nature) show that roosters arrange themselves pretty much the way we expect—by aggressiveness. Just like most guys I know.
But the hen pecking order is based on age. Just like most women in most families I know.
Within the flock, each chicken has a job. The Alpha rooster is the leader. He struts in the front and looks out for danger as he takes the others around the yard. If there’s a Beta rooster, that old boy walks in the middle of the flock and keeps his eyes on the hens so they don’t stray. And if there’s a third rooster, Mr. Omega brings up the rear, watching everyone else’s back.
All that crowing going on? That’s Alpha calling out to make sure the others are okay, and Beta and Omega replying. Think about Omega for a second. He may be the wuss, but by being in the back he’s the safest. Doesn’t this seem human to you?
The job of most of the hens is finding those delicious bugs and seeds and scarfing them down. But there’s also the motherhood thing. Hens whose job is to gather together all the eggs they can find and sit on ‘em till they hatch. And other hens who spell them so they can eat.
And if a brood hen does a lousy job she gets replaced.
Last month I noticed that our sweet old brooder was setting in her usual nest, but the eggs laid by the other hens were at the other end of the shelf instead of under her. Stone cold. The other hens noticed too and a few days later I found one of our young Leghorn Girls in the old brooder’s place. Beneath her were everyone’s eggs, just as they were supposed to be.
Like people, chickens love.
When our dog, Emmy the Bold, decided to use McNugget the Banty, who’s the flock’s omega rooster, as a toy, I managed to snatch him away while he was barely breathing. He was bloody, featherless, mangled.
I brought him into the hen house, and the original brood hen raced over and wrapped her wings around him like arms. She held him tightly, and crooned and sang like a diva of mercy, her voice every bit as beautiful as that of Beverly Sills in her prime.
That hen held McNugget for 24 hours, never letting up, not even to eat. She surrounded him with love, and not only did he survive, he thrived. He’s the fattest, fittest banty you’ll ever see, and the current ruler of the flock.
From Omega to Alpha, thanks to the love of a good woman.
Chickens forget things they should remember. If this isn’t the most human trait of all, what is? Let a chicken out of the run and it immediately forgets how to get back in. Watch a chicken that’s being chased by, well, Emmy. Invariably, it forgets that all it’s got to do to escape is fly into the nearest tree.
There’s another, more meaningful aspect to this flying thing. When we got our five Leghorn Girls, Lila, Lola, Layla, Lulu, and Trixie, the first thing they did was fly out of the run. So the next thing I did was borrow a net from Brannigan the Contractor, scoop the leghorns up one at a time, and clip their wings.
The Girls flapped around, but the best they could do was jump up a couple of feet. They stopped trying, and now, a year later, even though their feathers have grown back there’s no need to clip them again. They’ve forgotten they can fly.
Flying is one of the abilities that makes the LGs what they are, but because they haven’t used it they no longer remember it exists. Many wonderful qualities are part of human nature as well. Our hopes and dreams can take us soaring beyond so many so-called limits.
As long as we remember that our souls can fly.