In our second extract from her book How To Speak Chicken, writer Melissa Caughey considers play, trauma and loss
How To Speak Chicken
Chickens actively seek out happiness and pleasure. Their lives revolve around feeling good. Some chickens are rebels and thrill seekers. These are the ones that dare to cross the road even when no other chickens will follow. These are the ones that will meet you at the door, step inside your home, try to get over the garden fence, and even hide a nest full of eggs far away from the coop. Some chickens even choose their human flock over their chicken flock.
Sometimes chickens become bored and frustrated. This is especially true in winter, when they may not be able to free-range and their access to fresh green foliage and grass is cut off. Just as with humans, being literally “cooped up” can lead to naughty behavior to pass the time. With chickens, this can include ganging up on a lower-status hen, sometimes with relentless pecking, feather pulling, and drawing blood.
During these times of boredom and aggression, distractions can often provide a solution. When they have something fun to do, their behaviour improves! Chickens will investigate and amuse themselves with just about any object in their environment. They adore investigating new things, they quickly learn to perform tricks, and they enjoy staring at themselves in a mirror. It never ceases to amaze me how inventive chicken keepers can be in providing entertainment for their flocks. From offering them veggie piñatas of cabbage or cauliflower to peck at, to building them climbing structures and swings, we can enrich their lives. My girls love it when I rake up big piles of leaves in the autumn. They scratch around and disappear into the heap as they seek out bugs and hidden mealworms that I toss out for a chicken treasure hunt. They also do silly things that only they understand, like the time Tilly found a small stick covered with fresh leaves and decided to drag it all over the yard. It became almost like her friend. She dragged it everywhere that day, and just when I thought that she had abandoned it, something clicked and she ran back after it to drag it along on the day’s next adventure.
Author Melissa Caughey: ‘It never ceases to amaze me how inventive chicken keepers can be in providing entertainment for their flocks’