Pickles Says Hasta La Vista
Sep 03, 2017 12:00AM
By Holly Hester
I’ll be the first to admit that our farm is not a well-run operation. Animals running loose all over the place with no clear boundary between human and beast does not exactly create a sense of order and peace. It creates chaos, confusion, and a lot of poop in places poop should not be.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I really like getting to know the animals up close and personal and just hanging out with them. You get to study their behavior and compare it to not only other animals’, but your own.
Like our recent chicken escapade. About six weeks ago, my daughter, Emerson, and I discovered that one of our chickens, Pickles, had hatched 12 chicks (a perfect carton of eggs!) somewhere on our property. These chicks couldn’t have been more than a day old when we found them. We quickly brought Pickles and her brood into our house to keep them warm and safe from the other hens. (Given the chance, hens will kill another hen’s chicks. That’s my gross farm fact of the day.)
We marveled at Pickles’s wonderful mothering abilities: the way she would sit with all of her babies underneath her; the way she would run to them when they would start their frantic peeping; and the way she taught them to peck and scratch and take a nice dirt bath. If there were a chicken-mom award, Pickles would blow away the competition.
But, as all babies do, the chicks got bigger as they grew into what are called pullets, which is chicken for teenager.
Pickles and her kids had been sleeping inside a cage in our house ever since Emerson and I had found them. That is until one fateful Saturday. As usual, Pickles and her pullets had run into our house around sundown to settle in for a nice, cozy night. The pullets got into the cage to eat, and Pickles walked up to the cage, but hesitated.
She looked at the cage, so crowded now with her big chicks, and then she made a decision—a chicken choice. Pickles turned on her claws, walked out the front door, and headed to the coop. It was like in one single moment Pickles thought, You know what? I am soooooo done with this mothering thing. I just want to hang out with my friends and have some adult chicken conversation for one friggin’ night. Is that too much to ask?
Pickles has not been in our house since. It’s like she doesn’t even remember she ever had children. And even more amazing, her pullets don’t seem to remember they ever had a mother. Teenagers.
For a moment, I wanted a more formal goodbye—a long wing-hug and some tears would have been nice, or at least some acknowledgment of the time they shared together. Remember when we all hung out underneath you in the bathtub? That was hilarious.
But, as I’m learning on our chaos farm, that is not how chickens are. Their goodbyes are not fraught with drama and tension the way human goodbyes are. A chicken goodbye is quick and clean. Life goes on. After all, there are bugs to catch, and there is sunshine to bathe in.
Not a bad chicken lesson. Thanks, Pickles.
Holly Hester lives in Sebastopol and blogs at riotranch.com.