Saturday morning. I slip out the back door and wander down our quietly drizzly muddy valley, hot cup of coffee in hand, to spend a bit of quality time with my silkies.
I know of no better way to really see my birds with clarity, to judge confirmation, health and temperament, than by just sitting in the pen in my lawn chair, spending time visiting. Watching chicken TV.
I carry a scoop of hen scratch, and the birds know it. Standoffish at first, within minutes they are crowding me hopefully, expectantly. I make them work for it, screw up their courage and take it straight from my hand. Tiny Chicken thinks first of her silkie children, as big as her now, as she uses her beak to scoop seeds out of my hand onto the ground where her chicks can peck them up quick before the other birds get there. Opportunistic feeders, chickens are. Every bird for itself and no holds barred, they will steal a bite straight out of another’s mouth with absolutely no compunction. Not the momma birds though, like mommas everywhere, they think first of their offspring.
My showgirl cockerels are shaping up nicely. Mr. Black in particular is quite the gentleman. Tall and proud, as handsome as can be, he provides me an escort whenever I enter the pen. If I reach for a flock member, he attempts to intervene, but never aggressively. “Excuse me,” he indicates by positioning his body between me and my goal, “I believe my girls do not wish for you to touch them. Please desist.” I respond in kind, gently but firmly moving him aside.
Today he ate from my hand. It is good that he understands I am the creature from whom good things flow, but I won’t make a pet of him. Too often, once the hormones get raging, ‘pet’ roosters decide their humans are to be dominated and bred like any other hen, flogged for disobedience. Mutual respect is my goal. Partnership in flock guardianship, and me at the top of the pecking order, not him.
Should he, or any other rooster, attempt violence, I decline to enter into battle as some would recommend. Violence begats violence, in chickens as in people. There are always better ways. Instead, I’ll scoop him up, tuck him under my arm, and take him with me as I perambulate around the barnyard, seeing to this and that. Rendered completely helpless, in front of the whole flock no less, the humiliation is generally more than enough of a deterrent to change testosterone-fuelled attitudes, at least for a while. Sometimes the lesson must be repeated a few times. More rarely a rooster will fail to learn the necessary respect. These boys go on a one way trip to freezer camp.
This year’s silkies are shaping up nicely. I’m looking forward to next year’s breeding pens and brooding and hatching and egg selling. Bringing the happiness of healthy silkie babies to excited new silkie owners everywhere. It’s so much fun.