A month and a half ago, our friends Andrew and Allison trusted us to adopt their beloved friends Goldie Hawn, Yolko Ono and Xena Warrior Princess - 3 beautiful heritage birds I didn’t know I could love as much as i do.
Xena the Warrior Princess
Since we brought them over from East Van, we’ve been working on building them an epic sized run which we are being very careful to reinforce properly so no mink or raccoons come in (or ravens, nor eagles). This is proving to be a very slow task, especially since it has unexpectedly snowed four times since they’ve moved here. Seems like chickens don’t like being in the snow just as much as we don't like working in it. So, we’ve got 3 walls up, and have been making a scrappy barricade to attempt to keep them in the run when we are not around for long periods of time. (We just adopted 5 more chickens and another coop to add to the run - it's a never ending project!).
Last week, we let out the chickens as usual. Though we were home, we were hanging out in the trailer away from the chickens, so Claire decided to keep them in the run. Several hours later, we went to check on them. We didn’t immediately see them in the run, so I checked the coop. Goldie was in there by herself tucked in a corner, but Xena and Yolko were missing. So we walked along calling for the chickens, trying to lure them with food. They usually come out to us as soon as they hear us coming, so after a few minutes we started getting concerned.
In the last month, we’ve spent a lot of time with the chickens. One bonus (perhaps the only bonus) of building a run after having the chickens move in is that we’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with them, and we (us and the chickens) have gotten to know each other pretty well. Usually, when we come to check on them, they run to us as soon as they hear our voices. So today, when we called around for them we got super worried.
After a few more minutes of looking around an area where they like to dust bathe, I saw a bunch of Goldie’s chicken feathers. This is when Claire and I started to get very worried. We kept looking, then Claire found another pile of chicken feathers with one raven feather sitting on top. At this point we pretty much knew Yolko and Xena were probably gone forever.
We kept looking and calling for them - trying to find signs of their little bodies. When I was about to give up, we heard intense flapping coming out of the forest. Yolko came flying/running to us from out of the forest with Xena frantically fly/running behind. We were so excited to see them and they seemed pretty stoked to see us. I'm not exactly sure what happened to those chickens, but for for a few days afterward - they didn't seem to want to leave their coop without us around (not even to hang out in the run), and every time they heard a raven caw, or fly by, they would stop what they were doing. They're all good now, but we are pretty sure they had a close call.
All this to say, I decided I wanted to pay tribute to these ridiculous chickens because I think humans of our dominant western colonial capitalist culture (DWCCC) could learn a lot from chickens.
Here’s 9 chicken things I’ve learned to appreciate big big big:
The Crew (from left: Goldie Hawn, Yolko Ono, and Xena in front)
1. Rotating Leadership: When we first visited the chickens at our friends’ place in East Van, the pecking order (chicken hierarchy) went like this: Xena was at the top, Goldie was second in command, and Yolko was the lowly follower. The next visit, Goldie grew up in ranks as Xena took her time to grow her feathers back after molting.
When we moved them to our place on Mayne, Yolko’s confidence and curiosity moved her to the top, Goldie stepped down to second, and Xena has fallen to the bottom of the pecking order. The distribution of power seems to be very important for the effectiveness of their self-organizing.
2. Survival Instinct: Even though the chickens had been city kids- living next to a high traffic road and amongst dozens of rats - these chickens adapted super quickly to their new surroundings and let their instinct guide them as they learned to navigate their new home. For the first few days, they spent the days in the forest brush - staying out of the open where eagles and ravens could swoop down and grab them. Every time a raven cawed, the chickens would stop what they were doing and raise their heads, look around until they were sure the coast was clear.
3. Affection They cuddle lots, and I’m sure this is great for their mental health, self-confidence, and community-care. Sometimes, one will crawl underneath the other one and just hang out like that, under their friend.
4. Freedom Fighting For the first couple of days, the chickens didn’t have a run at all, so they slept in their coop and free ranged all over - they pretty much had total freedom (which you could tell they loved cuz they were dust bathing all over the place and each other). After the first wall was framed, Claire and our friend Ash started putting up the hardware cloth. At this point, Yolko started “bock-ing” SUPER LOUD and staring straight into Claire’s eyes. She did this for a good few minutes until the mesh was up. Even now that the mesh is up, if there are ways out, they will find them and escape. They are not dumb domesticated birds, they definitely know what’s up, and they will let you know when they are not down. And they will always break free!
5. They Stay Together (through thick and thin) Chickens stick together! Through thick and thin, they will get into little pecking matches and fight over food, but through it all, they stick together. They scratch for food together, they dust bathe together, they sleep huddled together, they drink water together - they know how to accept and love each other for real!
6. Patience, Courage & Determination Because people use the word “chicken” in a derogatory way, you might think chickens are wimpy little things - but I can tell you they are not. One of the downfalls (but it’s an amusing downfall) of building the run after the chickens have moved in is having to dig with them around. As soon as they hear the shovel (it is their favourite tool), they will run to you and obsessively hover around your shovel so they jump on the opportunity to peck newly dug up worms and grubs. They will ALL stand next to your shovel and wait for you to dig - and all you can do is be careful not to accidentally kill them because they will not go away. They are patient & determined af.
7. Super Quick Reflexes (and Fast Twitch Muscles): Though arguably awkwardly shaped, chickens are super quick and agile. When a walking person looks down at the ground, they will probably be able to see their feet because our heads are above our shoulders which are immediately above our hips, which are immediately above our knees and feet. Chickens, their heads are above and in front of their feet. So, whenever they scratch at the ground for food, they have to quickly take couple steps back, look down, and then if they see anything yummy, they have to accurately peck at it super fast before its prey dives for cover. It goes something like “scratch scratch, step step, look down. Scratch Scratch, step step, look down.” It’s like a really sweet dance sequence they all do at the same time, cuz chickens do everything together.
8. They Can Lay an Egg a Day! I mean, that’s impressive. Just think about it. So intense! This in itself cries resilience.
9. They Have Fluffy Diaper Butts. This has nothing to do with anything other than that they are pretty much as cute as doggies with fluffy ears! Their fluffy butts protect their butts (cloacas) from bacteria and other weird stuff - practical.
So this is it. Aspiring revolutionaries, we've got a lot to learn from chickens.