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Chicken Behaviourism 101

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Chicken Behaviourism 101

I love my Chickens! I totally have become the weird chicken guy, as my wife pointed out to me when we were on vacation at a resort in Jamaica and I was asking if the rooster I could hear crowing somewhere on the property was friendly.

Needless to say, I enjoy watching them. We gave up a third of our property to cordon off with an electric fence. Our property is graded, so the chicken territory is up a 30-degree slope. So this means their antics are on full display out any back window of the house. I often amuse myself working in the kitchen by observing whatever they are doing.

During this time I have witnessed things about chickens that I had no clue about. Not that I am a chicken farmer and have spent my life around them, no. In the way of chickens, just another backyard aficionado. So I make no claims to expertise here. But, from spending lots of time trolling (as in searching and reading anything found, not being an intentional disruption) I have to say there are many things people don't talk about regarding chickens, and man you would be shocked about the things people talk about regarding their chickens including designs of diapers (and sometimes more disgustingly not) so some lucky chickens get to live indoors on your couch.

So I've decided I would attempt to document my own list of behavioral traits in chickens as I share our meager 1.4-acre lot with a dozen chickens (as of latest count)

Charlie's Angels Pose

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6-year-old in a superhero outfit: I once heard this expression "I'm feeling like a 6-year-old in a superhero outfit" which I absolutely love. It signifies this joyous feeling like being the master of the universe. This is the first essence of chicken-dom that I note. Chickens in a group appear to behave in this manner pretty much all the time. It makes me wish I was a chicken in my own farm because they appear to have the best life. Not sure I want to be a chicken on any other farm though.

King of the Hill: This is obvious and probably the second most well-known stereotype about chickens, there is the "pecking order". The alpha male will always occupy the top center spot of any roost, and everything revolves around the King. Roosting and jousting, and even eating are all events on the Olypmic competition circuit where being the closest to the King may involve stabbing a sister in the back, which is basically pushing them out of the way. One hen literally liked to sleep underneath the roo and often pushed him into a corner until he flew away.

Ladies Man: Roosters are the quintessential ladies man, no wonder he's called a cock. In reality, I think Humans have evolved the entire phallic battle of the sexes from chickens because the preening, dancing, and womanizing roosters do with their haram of hens. If you've ever seen a rooster strut up to a woman (or you), you often wonder wth is happening. It's the most ridiculous little shuffle dance which apparently makes the ladies swoon.

The Ptolemaic Essence: Named after the ancient world cartographer whose curiosity is known to be the first to define the known universe as concentric circles around Earth, a chicken method of exploration is similar, to mentally mapping in a circular fashion which gets bigger. When given new territory, the method of discovery is small and steady by increasing the ring of exploration daily. Every time I bring in new chickens (either purchased or coming from a brooder indoors) they are scardey-cat for the new environment. They stick together and don't go far. Eventually, they started expanding this territory according to limitations. It's just unfortunate these limitations are not the barriers we perceive as humans such as fences. If the fence has a hole, it will inevitably lead to one or more chickens going through the hole, and not finding their way back. That usually results in a FOMO event. 

Barhopping: The habitual tour of specific places throughout the day for eating, resting, playing, or even having emotional meltdowns. There is a definitive pattern that happens here that comes out of The Ptolemaic Essence and FOMO. If a rooster is around, it becomes a guided tour where the tour director may use stern actions to keep the group in tow. But most often it looks tranquil, a bunch of hens with a roo in lead casually popping from one favored spot to another. Eating, drinking, playing and resting all get involved with the different spots. I wonder if they have a Yelp-like app

Charlie's Angels Entrance: Whether it's the original or rebooted film, there is always the gratuitous action entrance to a scene when involving The Angels. Chickens, especially hens are self-stylized Angels because they often like to make dramatic entrances which include flying and squaking. When a bunch of them do it simultaneously it is quite a grand spectacle. Charlie would be proud (and mildly hungry).

FOMO: Fear of missing out is rampant with chicken social groups. Part of their barhopping is to never leave a chicken behind. But they do it all the time because one is particularly interested in a patch of grass with some insects frantically running from Godzilla. When one chicken happens to get left behind and realizes the group has moved on to the next pub, there is often quite the explosion of activity which can involve squawking and flying, aka Charlie's Angels Entrance.

Jousting: This is how chickens determine their ranking system. It looks like fencing or some martial art which involves dashing at each other, beak point out and lunging to strike (without contact), and then preening the head upwards. It's a very specific dance that seems to repeat the form every time. Somehow they figure things out, I have no idea how they do. This reminds me of the vintage arcade game Joust where the medieval knight in a jousting tournament appears to be riding an ostrich (or perhaps a giant chicken).

Custar's Stand: In backyard chicken raising, hens are loud enough depending on the breed. Roosters are designed for noise making, so so many flocks are roo-less. However, having a rooster is very advantageous if the potentially constant crowing doesn't make you want to load the shotgun. Roosters keep the ladies in line, he is the tour director for the days' proceedings, and he signals the presence of food and danger. There are other things that are way more explicit, but we will assume that part about males and females is obvious for any species. When there is danger, the rooster goes headfirst into battle, in a seemingly pointless way. I've lost two roosters to foxes so far, and both times he was first to go. On both occasions I heard the upset of the hens and chased the fox away, leaving a roo that needed to be put down and immediately turned into soup.

Katherine the Great: For lack of a better name, this is when the wannabe dominant hen will cycle through a rollercoaster of status and emotion.   Hens on their own get catty with each other, and one will need to step in and become the defacto Alpha. In cases of Custar's Stand, there is clearly a morning period where the hens are depressed and cranky. One eventually gets into pole position. However, when the new cruise director is elected (cockerel becomes Alpha through jousting) 

Level 1-3 meltdowns: So far I've documented 3 layers to the egg song. Still working out the nuance of them, but I am aware they exist. A Level 1 meltdown seems to consist of general displeasure which is a kind of cackling/whining/pissed-off sound. Level 2 and 3 meltdowns I think are specifically around the mythical "egg song". I say mythical because this is human observation, and the United Nations has yet to officially ask chickens what in the actual eff they are going on about. Anyhow, level 2 meltdown seems to most often involve running into the very center of the area and clucking like there has been a fox attack either before or after an egg has been laid. This can also happen in the coop. Sometimes level 2 becomes a level 3 meltdown which is very serious. When one hen sustains level 2 long enough, the rooster will start losing it and becomes a mommy's boy who is upset that his shirt isn't ironed yet before meeting a special girl. When the rooster is losing it, the rest of the hens chime in and we now reach Defcon 1 and almost entirely assured mutual destruction, hence Level 3 meltdown because it's virally spread through the air. Funny enough a level 3 in the coop can be stopped simply by showing up. The sound of Supreme Alphas (that's me, food guy) footsteps causes the silence to be deafening. When entering the coop, they just look at you like a group of misbehaving 6-year-olds; "What? We weren't doing anything wrong. He did it..."

Generational entitlement: Chickens are all to eager to become overly spoiled. We coined the name "Our Best Life Farm" because the chickens appear to be living their best life as commented by anyone who visits. The little buggers take to it all too seriously and are happy to remind you when your service levels are faltering. They will have regular shitfits when things don't come when they want or at the same time or place as earlier in the barhopping routine. This is the equivalent of the chickens 1-starring you on Yelp. I ferment the feed which is the same as the dry feed always available in the coop. But they prefer the fermented which is served 3 times throughout the day. The first thing they do is march down the hill to the fence and look for food guy. If he (I) doesn't show up, they start catcalling which can quickly escalate to a level 1 meltdown (Defcon 5).

Chicken Ball: The game of footie (Soccer) is played by chickens in the form of fleshy bits that were once something else. When a very unlucky frog strays from the home base pond too far and is discovered by Godzilla, the ensuing game of ball is fun to watch. Knowing the find is a prized possession, the chicken immediately runs knowing there will be others in tow to steal it. So the games begin and one wishes they were filming it to have Ozzy Man fill in the audio.

Wagah Border: The longest-defended border in the world with a hostile status is the one between India and Pakistan. The longest border is actually between Canada and USA but we Canuck just forgive the Yanks for stealing our Beavers. The Wagah border crossing is home to one of the most bizarre rooster-like rituals performed by Humans with Guns. The "beaten retreat" is a military dance that is basically a d**k-swinging contest by grown-ass men which signifies a very similar meaning as a Brit showing his two bow fingers to a Frenchman; which is "we are still here, so f##k you!". So when new chickens are introduced to the general population, there is often bloodshed. The correct thing to do is to have the newcomers quarantined in a large dog cage so they can be seen in the coop but kept safe. The resident chickens now start behaving like inmates catcalling fresh meat in a maximum security prison. It makes me wonder if the Wagah Border routine was actually inspired by watching chickens. In which case, I hereby petition India and Pakistan to rename it Chicken Border (also for the fact, yes both are still and no one had the balls to take and declare "I has your bases").