They say chickens are cowards, but who am I to judge?
In the years that I have owned hens, I’ve never seen them display cowardice. Vigilant, cautious, heedful, I have seen these words in practice. But craven? Not often.
I’ve seen chickens that have pecked snakes and hens who have pecked my hand trying to collect the eggs under her warm body. I have heard the wail of a rooster when the hawks wheels in the dawn. I have seen a pecking order with a speckled bantam at the top. I have seen love, too, in their bravery. In their acceptance of new hens as they come—bruised and swollen and cut up as I have adopted them.
But the most courage I have seen comes in those chicken who are injured themselves. Prey animals, they don’t show the pain they can manage to hide. Stoic. No grimace on the limp. Sitting down to avoid running. Perching on trembling legs, I’ve seen it taken in stride.
Hens hide their pain, ignore it until necrosis can set in. I watch my flock, my brave girls doing their best to stay tough. I watch them until they can trust me to play acting. Like this hen here, who’s healing from bumblefoot and comes to me when I squat down to feed them. Comes to me, to trust me, to show me her progress, to limp if she’s aching so I can soak her foot again and hold her against my chest until she’s asleep.
I wonder sometimes what I can learn from raising chickens that I haven’t already. Not about responsibility or time management or all the resume fillers, buzzwords, corporate catch-all’s. But the real lessons I’m learning.
“How can I be brave today?” I’m asking myself. “What pain am I showing to those I trust, cracking at the edges of my denial?”