I know why the caged bird squawks

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The vast majority of the world’s chickens spend their entire lives in a cage. That’s what I told myself as we put Queenie in what is supposed to be the cure for her broodiness. The impossibility of nesting in a cage is supposed to break the hormonal cycle, and should turn Queenie back into an ordinary, free-ranging, bug-hunting, grass-eating, egg-laying, night-roosting, dirt-scratching, shoelace-pecking bird.

She’s been broody – sitting on imaginary eggs, not moving unless we bodily remove her from the nest box – for five weeks now. When this first started, we decided to see if her raging hormones would run their course in the three weeks that’s the gestation period for an egg, but they haven’t.

Queenie takes the cure

It was Kevin who decided it was time for drastic measures. This may surprise those of you who follow this space and understand Kevin’s attachment to the chickens, but it’s entirely consistent with his problem-solving philosophy.

Best we can tell, a broody chicken is not a happy chicken. When we take her out to make sure she eats and drinks, she turns into Henzilla, Monster of the Coop. She fluffs herself up, sticks out her wings, and runs around clucking. She attacks the other chickens. She tries to nest on any available surface. It’s no fun being a victim of your hormones. Just imagine five weeks of PMS.

A caged chicken is even less happy than a broody chicken. But the caging should be a three-day affair, and the broodiness could go on for the entire summer. While Kevin and I agree that three days of being very miserable is better than three months of being pretty miserable, Kevin’s the one who can take the long view and actually put the chicken in the cage. I have a tendency to take it a day at a time. Today, she’ll be less miserable if we don’t put her in the cage, and who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Kevin’s right, of course. Caging is both in Queenie’s best interest and in ours. She’ll go back to being a happy chicken, and we’ll start getting eggs from her again. It’s clearly the best solution.

Real farmers have to make hard decisions daily. Livestock, even the best-treated livestock, are subjected to unpleasant procedures all the time. Animals that are sick, or a drain on resources, or a threat to people or other animals, have to be put down. You commit to giving your animals the best life you reasonably can, and then you do what you have to do.

Just yesterday, I went out to Long Pasture Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon preserve, to talk with its director, Ian Ives, about working on a project together. As he was giving me a tour, one of the property’s many rabbits hopped across our path. My first thought – the very first – was what a nice dinner it might make.

Later in the tour, I saw a little boy, about six or seven, tip-toeing up to one of the rabbits – could have been the same one – trying to get as close as he could to the nice bunny. I felt like a barbarian. What has this life done to me, that I see a nice bunny and I think guns and stewpots?

In a way, it was reassuring to feel something very much like distress at seeing one of our chickens in a cage. Maybe I’m not a barbarian after all.

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Comments

  1. When folks are running around in vegan shoes fighting for the lives of all animals, it’s helpful to remember that our eyes are in the fronts of our heads and we have canine teeth- we’re predators, and we’re at the top of the food chain. Our bodies are evolved and built to digest animal proteins. What determines whether we’re civilized or barbarian is how we treat the animals we’re going to consume. Just being concerned over the happiness of your hen paints you as civilized. Presumably, if you were to shoot that rabbit for dinner, you’d do it as quickly and humanely as possible. That paints you civilized as well.

    I think that seeing a rabbit and thinking “Dinner!” is entirely practical. Rabbits to me are food- bunnies are pets. Seeing a bunny and thinking dinner may be a bit barbaric- it’s all in how you approach it.

    At least, this is what I hope. I’ve never killed anything but a mole, and then felt really, really bad about it immediately after.

  2. That was funny! I’d look at the rabbit and rush off to grab my lettuce before the dumb bunny could get to it. We have a war going in my yard. We all look thru different eyes and it’s what makes the world such an exciting place.

    Thanks for the laughs.

  3. My dogs see rabbits and they definitely think “Food!” and they’re very good at catching them too (I just wish the smaller one was slightly better at despatching her prey as I don’t like having to finish the job for her). And I like rabbit stew too although it has been a while since I’ve seen rabbit meat for sale. I’ve never seen them as pets oddly enough.

    Good luck with Queenie! You know it makes sense.

  4. Your empathy for Henzilla and her condition proves, to me at least, that you are no barbarian.

    If you have Henzilla, then I think we have Henzuke – a tiny pekin cross who’s sat tight on her clutch. When I open the door to check on her in the morning she growls at me and fluffs all her feathers until she doubles in size. I can see in her beady eye that she means business too. But her chicks will hatch in a couple of weeks and the hormones will come back into line.

    Last year, I tried leaving a broody hen to run its course too, thinking as you did that in a month’s time give or take she’ll realise she’s not having chicks and get over it. It took nearly four months. She took her misery out on the dogs, chasing and spurring them everytime they came out for their walks. She got to where she was waiting in the evening by their kennels looking for a fight. A broody hen will cure a dog of its inclination to chase chickens, that’s for sure.

  5. I think you may not have got that boys motivation quite right. My husband and son were walking home from the shops one night when a local builder offered them a (pet) rabbit that had been abandoned at the house he was renovating. My son who was five at the most said “mmm yummy I love rabbit” and the big burly builder was most peturbed and withdrew his offer!

  6. Paula — I guess it’s a fine line between barbarism and self-sufficiency. I’ve always said exactly what you did — that it’s all about how we treat our animals. Still, I know my attitude toward killing things has changed since I’ve been out here, and that does give me pause.

    Susan — We’re fighting the same war. It’s us or them out here!

    Fiona — I hope you’re right about Queenie. As I write, it’s been 2 1/2 days, and she’s still Henzilla. I sure hope this doesn’t go on too long.

    Jen — You did the right thing by your broody hen. I’m beginning to think giving them eggs to hatch is by far the best solution. We may have to rethink our reflocking strategy! But hearing about your four-month stint does convince me that we’re doing the right thing trying to break the cycle. Good luck with Henzuke!

    Sarah — That’s a great story! I think we ought to accustom children early to associating the live animal with the food on the plate, and I’m glad your son’s on board. And maybe you’re right about that kid, and he was packing a slingshot.

  7. I always feel a bit of a pig when I put a hen in the broody coop too. But it does work and a hen that is broody and without a clutch of eggs to sit on quickly becomes depressed.

    Loved the rabbit musings. We’ve got rabbit in the pot for tonight… and no, not the nieghbour’s pet!