For the last year and a half, I have had the joy, privilege and frequent aggravation of being a chicken owner.  It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster if I’m being real.  Foxes killed a couple, disease and age a few more, and one was brutally murdered by her own coop-mates. Chickens are savages.  On the flip side, I have raised two batches of fluffy day-old chicks to maturity, reached the point where my egg producers are more than paying their own expenses, and was genuinely surprised to learn that a hen who likes you but is feeling ignored will occasionally jump on your head while you are cleaning the coop just to say hi. 

If you’re interested in the “How it started” portion of this story you need only scroll back to the post in January about feeding rats and laying eggs.  The nutshell version of that one is, a bunch of old worn-out hens in a barn full of rats will never fill your belly with eggs.  That said, I am (sometimes) capable of learning from my mistakes. So, I raised 18 new hens (together with my old girls) and got them a new, safe, sealed, insulated, rat free coop.  

In a short space of time, I have had to learn a heck of a lot about chickens.  Honestly, I love it.  I have truly become that crazy chicken lady.  I even have the hoodie to prove it!

I am so thankful for the enormous online chicken community.  Trust me, it’s a thing. It doesn’t matter what bizarre issue your chickens may have there are 14 conflicting opinions about every single one of them. Aggressive rooster? Coccidiosis? Egg bound hen? Bumblefoot? Making your own feed? Fart eggs? (not kidding, it’s a thing, I get like one a week). The information is out there in abundance.

What the internet could not fully prepare me for, however, was their personality. They are just weird. Watch a chicken run some time.  That, my friends, is the purest and best physical comedy you will ever see.  And all those cliches like hen-pecked, pecking order, ruffled feathers, and rule the roost exist because chickens behave in predictably bizarre ways.

  Remember FOMO? Fear of missing out? I don’t think it’s a term we use much anymore, but it’s still a thing.  It was a big discussion when social media really became an entrenched part of western life.  Suddenly we were all posting the very best and most interesting parts of our lives, and we started realizing that other people were doing really cool things that we weren’t doing, and we panicked because clearly life was just passing us by while everyone else was doing awesome stuff.   We started to realize just how many cool things there were to do, and we weren’t doing what our friend from high school was doing, so clearly we were missing out.  Suddenly life was really unjust, and we all had to try what that guy was doing, and it became a vicious exhausting cycle of trying to keep up so we didn’t miss out.  Sound familiar? I think FOMO had another name before it was FOMO.  I think we used to call it envy. 

Anyways, I have discovered that chickens have FOMO.  Like chronic, clinical, crippling FOMO.  If one of the girls finds something disgusting to pick at, they all want it.  If one of the girls heads for the barn, they all go to the barn.  It is most apparent, however, in the use of the nesting boxes.  The lovely new coop that we built for our girls is not only warm, safe and sealed, but it has no less than 12 lovely, cozy straw lined nesting boxes.  They are all identical in size.  But there is really only one they want.  I might find an egg or two in another box, but when I go to collect eggs, I know that the vast majority will be in the bottom box at the east end of the south wall.  Why? Because I have a broody hen named Shadow who does not like to leave that box.  And if Shadow wants to be there, then everyone else has to be there too.  Mornings in that box are hectic to say the least.  Picture 22 daughters and one bathroom.  To be fair it’s like 22 daughters and 12 bathrooms, but they only want to use the one.  It’s a literal mob scene.  

For the first five or so hours after the sun rises, that box is mayhem and NO ONE, least of all Shadow, is enjoying herself.  But they all have to get into that box because that’s where everyone else is.  

Observe the options with me please.  There are eleven other boxes lined generously with straw.  There is a whole coop to enjoy when not actually dropping an egg.  There is a lovely enclosure, and beyond it, during the day they have access to all 10 acres of our property.  But no.  They all gotta be in one box that is 18 by 10 inches.  There is more straw and it’s fresher in other boxes. There is no line up for other boxes. This desperate need to be in the same box as all the other chickens is madness. 

So here I am laughing at my stupid chickens when I suddenly realize, oh look at that! I am one.  I mean, it’s not just me, right?  Envy and comparison grab us.  We see what others have, what others do, where others are, and we feel like maybe what we have, do and are, isn’t enough.  If other people want to be in that box, there must be something more special about that box than ours.  So it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it is, how crowded, or even if it is really our thing, we cram ourselves in there and fight to stay, no matter how miserable it is.  Which makes me think, when the Bible warns us against envy and jealousy, maybe it’s not because God was bored and wanted to make a new rule.  Maybe it’s because he wanted us to enjoy our world and not be consumed with what other people have and are.  

Which leads me to a final chicken illustration:  

I have one chicken who is not like the others. Helen’s story is long and heroic (not really), and it’s probably just as well that I don’t have time to give you the long version.  Helen is a survivor. She was a meat hen that I just did not notice on the day I had to take them to the abattoir.  She is twice the size of the other girls, a very different colour, and she does not care about that box.  Helen is living her best life.  While the rest of the girls are fighting over the box, she is snacking. While the other girls are chasing after the scraps, she is snuggling into a soft pile of straw.  Helen is dancing to the beat of her own wings.  She is never fighting for space, never chasing the other girls. Despite her size she is not the most dominant.  She is just too busy being Helen to care what the others are doing.

And I guess that’s my take-away from watching my chickens today.  I can get all wrapped up in what others are doing.  I can convince myself that my happiness lies in having what others have, and doing what others do.  But when I believe that, I just climb into a tiny box with a bunch of other equally miserable chickens.   

I really think I would be a lot happier if I just took a page from Helen’s book.  Of course, who could read it?  It’s chicken scratch! 

1 thought on “Chicken Envy and Living Her Best Life

  1. I love this!! My boss has chickens and I hear the odd story, but this is such a great illustration of life!

    Thank you for sharing!

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