Saturday, October 6, 2018

one hen

one hen

Our oldest laying hens are now 3 and one half years old. Our oldest rooster is also. While we have lost a few to undetermined illness, the losses have been rare and isolated, so I haven't felt the need to intervene. Overall, they are doing fine.

The old rooster though, has had it rougher than the hens. He's lost a claw or two in fights, and lost some comb to winter freezing.  He has been a good protector, and is pretty deferential to us humans.When he was young, he would lead the flock all over the place, from barnyard to south lawn of the house. All in all, a good rooster.

A couple younger rosters have slowly worn him down with challenges, and so this year, we have a new top rooster, and the old guy has been relegated to the fringes. Frankly, we have a couple too many roosters. Ongoing negotiations on whether to eat surplus roosters have stalled out.

The new top rooster however, is a bit selfish when finding food, and doesn't seem to be the guardian that the old fellow was. He also just hangs near the barn, leaving all the crickets, grasshoppers, and other potential goodies a bit further afield go to waste.

And of course, chases off the old guy when he tries to hang out with the flock. So the old fellow still comes down by the house, finding plenty to eat, and crowing every once in a while to let us know he is still on the job.

Interestingly, there is one hen that still follows him each day on his foraging rounds. They are both Black Australorps, and one could engage in some anthropomorphism and almost think of them as one of the bird species that mate for life. But chickens do not do that.

So why does this one hen still leave all the rest of her twenty odd sisters, and follow this old fellow around the farm?

Chickens seem to us to be a confounding mix of smart and stupid. In general, they do learn, and develop patterns that work for them, but any new twist can really cause them to lose it. Maybe we aren't all that different??

My mind wanders while doing the daily farm chores, and one thing I've wondered this fall is, why that one hen?

What extra little brain activity, genetic variation,  or chance occurrence caused her and only her to stray from the flock and hang with the deposed leader? Is it more than pure statistical probability?

There is still so much we don't know about our own brain workings, that it seems a bit presumptuous to declare that this or that animal is not thinking, or that it is complex "instinct" we see and no more.

Intelligence, or sapience is obviously a spectrum, and a dog is clearly "smarter" than a chicken, but maybe intelligence is composed of many more variables and axes of progressive change than we currently envision?

I am sure tempted to think that that one hen is just smarter than all the others.

( not my chickens, just an image of black australorps from the internet)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,

    It does make you wonder doesn't it? Chickens are smart enough for what they have to do in life. Incidentally the oldest chicken that I've ever read about was 17 years old. Surprisingly enough the hen wasn't laying eggs. Two of my chickens are about 9 years old and I reckon they bring a certain sort of calmness to the rest of the chickens, basically because they teach the younger chickens - and stomp the living daylights out of them when they play up.