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Beware of chicken friends

Chickens are not smart, nor are they known for their bravery, but like most animals they can teach us a bit about humanity.We have free-range chickens. Most days they are allowed out of their screened front yard to range about the ranch house eating whatever. Usually “whatever” is made up of bugs and gravel. One day, however, the hens happened upon a fresh gopher kill. What a savory morsel! They snatched the gopher from the cat. Then they argued, as only hens can, over who would get the “lion’s share.” Odder than that metaphor being linked with chicken behavior, my wife actually mentioned the hen’s snack to a friend who gets her eggs from us. The dear lady laughed nervously. She’s never needed eggs again. Must be concerned about her cholesterol.Our teenage children alternate caring for the hens. “You left their waterer almost empty. Fill it up before I take over!” is heard weekly. At bedtime I’ll ask our daughter, “For heaven’s sake, you haven’t gathered the eggs yet?” The hens teach kids about responsibility and caring for life and something more.Our chickens eat table scraps. No need to compost, they’ll eat anything. Potato skins, cottage cheese, all leftovers. The chickens live for their daily scrap delivery. They see the kid and, more importantly, that scrap bucket coming. They pace. They squawk. When you enter their yard, they will crowd around and onto your feet. You have their undivided attention – until you drop the scraps. Then you are forgotten faster than Rodney Dangerfield’s phone number by a blind date!My daughter is at an awkward phase in life. She is becoming a young woman, ready or not. Luckily for her (and me) she has Mom to help her with the mechanics of womanhood, but her emotions are a jumble. She was having mixed feelings about one little girl friend in particular and being at this topsy-turvy time in her development, didn’t quite trust her own judgment. We sat and talked privately.”Dad, why do I feel so queasy about my friend?” she asked pensively.I was acquainted with this friend. Well, I asked her, do you notice how the chickens behave when you bring them their scraps? And do you notice how they treat you once they’ve gotten what they’re after? I think your friend is like that – a “chicken friend.” She thought about what I said and smiled. She realized wearing her heart on her sleeve with this friend was probably not a good idea.Friends from town come out and visit the ranch regularly. One such friend, Steve, is finding himself enamored with the country life. Steve is by no means a country person. Author Robert Heinlein once said, “A human being should be able to build a house, set a bone, fix a car, deliver a baby … specialization is for insects.” Steve is a specialist. He is a brilliant software engineer. A hammer mystifies him. Fence pliers are unidentifiable. Steve does not want to be an “insect” any longer. He is gamely trying to expand his horizons, and we enjoy his visits. Animals are bewildering and give him pause, however. He doesn’t know their habits. I’ve noticed his eyes get real big and his movements become short and choppily tense around critters.One morning while cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I asked Steve if he would take the scraps ’round back to the chickens. He asked how to do this and I said, “Oh, just open their yard gate a crack and dump the scraps in.” Unbeknownst to me, Ilene had let the hens out of their yard before she hung some laundry. Thirty hens were now out, pecking and scratching and generally milling about. Steve rounded the corner with “The Bucket.” Sixty beady little orange eyes were upon him. Running at top speed they engulfed Steve’s feet. (When chickens run real fast they look like they could use little arms to swing.) Anyway, I’m told Steve’s eyes got huge and his movements got choppier than usual as he instinctively hoisted the bucket up near his ear while shrieking and shuffling backward – into more eager chickens! Ilene observed all this from the clothesline and through gales of laughter was barely able to shout, “Drop the bucket! They just want the bucket!”To Steve’s credit, he still visits regularly. The tic is nearly gone from his eye when he spies poultry, even though his shoes have been savaged by geese since then.When dealing with any type of animal, it pays to learn their habits. Oh and always, always beware of chicken friends.Tom Preblelvranch@att.net719-749-0549

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