I have heard and used phrases for years that I didn’t realize found their origins in farm living. Like “make hay while the sun shines”. Did you know that hay must be cut and baled when dry or else it will mold and be rendered useless? On sunny days in the country, the landscape is dotted with tractors rushing to get the job done while the weather is favorable. Farming is loaded with such folksy sayings.
I’ve been living and witnessing one of my favorites: Pecking order. Since I was raised a suburban girl, I always heard “pecking order” used in a familial sense when referring to birth order. On the farm, it is a way of life and the chicken coop has become Ground Zero.
There are several factions and subgroups of “pecking order” in our flock of 50+ laying hens and roosters and the mayhem is testing my patience. Each “quirk” of dominance or submission displayed by these groups is not cute, but instead a timewasting pain in the ass. The behaviors should be managed and challenged. I am inclined to not give into their silliness, but Steve is a softy and he makes matters worse.
Bradley, the secondary rooster that must remain outside the coop or else Fabio will kill him in his sleep, begs for a taste of breakfast before we let the others out. I walk past with my eyes fixed on the coop door. Steve stops, bends over and dishes out a handful of grains. Yeah, great job Steve. Like that is really going to modify his needy behavior. The practice has now grown to a three or four times a day thing.
Hens naturally vie for a power position, but Steve helps the practice along. He has his favorite hens and he has spoiled them rotten. His latest, “Pretty Girl” has turned into a massive bitch. So entitled and invested in his attention that she has a tantrum if I put out the feed instead of him. She will peck at my hands and jump on my back when I bend over. Does Steve ignore or chastise her? No, he comes over, pries her sharp claws out of my back and then hand feeds her, all the while stroking her feathers!
Steve’s old favorite, Taylor Swift, has let stardom and special treatment go to her head. She is now the ringleader of “The Mean Girls”; they wreak havoc with our youngest adolescent hens. We have kept the youngest separated by a temporary wire wall as they grow big enough to hold their own. We have started to open the door during the day to let the youngsters out into the chicken yard. Taylor, and her cohorts, stands in wait by the wire door leading to the youngest adolescent hens. When I open the door leading to the main coop, The Mean Girls rush the adolescents and force them into a corner and then take turns feasting on their food. All the commotion results in upended feeders and water containers. Steve just stands there and smiles at the monster he has created.
So chores related to the hens now take at least 20 extra minutes a day due to the liberal abuse of “pecking order”. All of these relaxed parenting techniques displayed by Farmer Steve made me wonder how we managed to raise five appropriate, respectful and balanced children. Maybe those long days he spent at the office weren’t such a bad thing after all :-)