I was so amazed and excited by a conversation I had with my friend’s backyard chicken flock, a few weeks ago.
We began our conversations with this flock last year when the lowest ranking hen, (named Hen) was becoming so stressed she had stopped laying eggs, and it was worrying the concerned flock custodian, Tracey. Hen and the lowest-ranking rooster Percy had become good pals, but Tracey was concerned for the well-being of all her hens.
I learned a lot from these first conversations. Percy *adores* hen, and kept asking Tracey if they could have their own enclosure with their own coop (and a fountain) where they could raise babies. This was not in the flock plan.
I spoke with a solitary Buff Orpington, (named Buff) whose gentle personality and slow nature had made her the harassed target for the attentions of the most aggressive rooster, the second-ranked of three roosters, named R2.
I spoke with a trio of beautiful, greenish black Australorp hens. I call them the Black Beauties. The Black Beauties communicated as a hive mind – the three of them indistinguishable from each other to the humans and to themselves. Their consciousness functioned as a single animal, almost. It reminded me of the sea urchins.
Buff was a gentle, passive bird who I thought would be much happier if she could fade into a hive consciousness too, but because she was the only bird of her breed in the flock, and she was *so different* from the other birds, it kind of forced her to develop a sense of herself as an individual.
Patti and Selma, two sisters of white and black colouring, were the flock leaders. Well, Patti was the leader, and Patti had opinions about everyone and everything.
I made a variety of suggestions to bring a better harmony to the flock. For one thing, the flock was a mixture of breeds and with Hen and Buff being the only chickens of their breed, they were uncomfortable and out of place. I suggested over the long term, that Tracey shift the population of the flock to be one or two breeds, instead of a variety of four. Tracey agreed, but they hadn’t decided which breed would suit them best.
The main reason Tracey had contacted me was that the aggression between the three roosters and the attentions they paid to Buff was causing a lot of stress to the flock and the humans. Buff was losing all the feathers off her back and was looking quite down-trodden. Percy existed on the periphery, R2 lurked like a jealous beast in the shadows, and R1, the top rooster, reigned supreme. Roosters in most chicken flocks like to be the head of their harem, and most roosters are consequently bound for the cooking pot, given that they don’t lay eggs and each chicken flock only needs one rooster.
The question was, who to kill? Percy, the meek third rooster would have been a logical choice, but Tracey didn’t want to remove Hen’s only friend and ally from the flock. R2 was aggressive and a natural choice for culling, but would R1 begin to fight with gentle Percy if R2 were out of the picture?
It was an interesting challenge, talking to a chicken flock about who among them should die.
The hens were unanimous: R2 should go. No one liked him. I spoke with R2 and it was obvious he was fiery and very hormonal. He was ruled by instinct.
I explained to him that he could be a “spirit rooster”, and still live on the farm he enjoyed, but leave his body so that he would no longer be a danger to the hens or the humans (he was known to charge people too. In fact, during my visit as I approached him he stopped, stared at me with an upright posture and shot me a picture in my mind of him killing a chicken and said “Come one step closer, and I will kill you.” I wasn’t afraid for my life of course – but roosters are large, powerful animals. I was concerned for my shins, so I respected his boundaries, even though his threat was totally over the top.)
I explained to him how he would leave his body (Tracey’s husband did the killing in the back yard).
After R2 was “processed” the flock settled down a bit, but as Tracey predicted, R1 became aggressive towards Percy. It was last year, and I can’t remember exactly how the decision came down, but Tracey and her husband decided to cull R1 rather than Percy, and allow Percy and Hen to have babies after all. (I think this was in part due to Percy persistently projecting his image of having babies with Hen. They installed a fountain in their backyard pond too!)
Hen, through all this, slowly came into her own. The Black Beauties had been looking “down upon” Hen and considered her an unfit mother. The Black Beauties had decided that Hen would not be allowed in the nest boxes, and the three of them hogged the three nest boxes, moving aside only for Patti, Selma or Buff.
Tracey re-homed Patti, Selma and Buff to another nearby backyard farm with other birds of their breeds. When last visited, they were doing very well and Buff was enjoying an elevated status in the flock due to her strong sense of herself she developed as an Only Buff.
This left the Black Beauties, Hen and Percy in the backyard flock… until Hen hatched out her babies!
All last summer, Hen was busy being a *very* good mother. She even raised one of Buff’s fertilized eggs, a cross between Buff and Percy, named “Bufflet”. Bufflet is a charming bird who was the first to communicate with Tracey telepathically, declaring loudly, “I’m Bufflet!” A chicken with a sense of herself.
Hen now enjoys top-rank status over the flock, a long, long way from the hen-pecked, shy individual too timid to lay eggs. She bosses all of the other birds around because they’re her own children, and they grew up respecting her authority. And the Black Beauties? Well they can admit that Hen is a good mother after all.
Recently, Tracey called me again and asked about Percy displaying aggression towards her. It turns out that he was becoming keyed up due to the presence of the maturing male chickens, his own sons by mother Hen. As these rooster-lets became roosters, Percy responded to his instinctual drive towards dominance displays in order to keep the new kids in line. He was so keyed up, he would mistakenly become aggressive towards Tracey the human, too.
As once again the backyard flock had too many roosters, Tracey and her husband did a cull.
At the time of Tracey’s call, I didn’t know that only two culled roosters belonged to Tracey’s flock – immediately four roosters came through, loud and clear – roosters who had recently been culled, and showed themselves as four roosters sitting in a line on the fence, watching the flock contentedly.
“We’re just fine! Tell Tracey that we are happy to come back again, and grow more rooster bodies for her to eat. We had a grand, pleasant rooster life, we would happily come back again! Tell her if she needs more roosters (shows me the processed rooster bodies in the freezer) just ask for us to come back in the next (shows me the nest with hen sitting on eggs.) We will grow up here again, many times, through many years!”
Tracey laughed, and asked me how I knew four roosters had been killed that weekend. I didn’t know, I just saw four and assumed they were all hers. Well, Tracey went on to tell me they *had* processed four roosters that weekend, but only two came from the home flock. Two others had belonged to a friend with her own backyard flock and an excess of roosters.
Tracey asked me to check in on the flock, post-rooster-kill, to see how everyone was doing. Percy was content and relaxed, and the hens barely noticed anyone was missing. The roosters were in spirit, happy to come back if needed.
Isn’t that amazing?
This is something I didn’t know could happen in domestic farm animals. I have spoken with birds in the wild who taught me about reincarnation in the bird world.
One was a finch with a beautiful song, who I engaged in conversation on a sunny afternoon at the beach.
This beach belongs to my People! She informed me. She showed me how her own spirit and the spirits of her family had been cycling through finch bodies for hundreds and hundreds of years, as long as the beach has existed. They are born in the same bushes, they learn to fly on the same trees, over many incarnations they watch the small cedars become tall and wide. The showed me how the hummingbirds take over the beach for their nesting for a brief period in the summer, but they quickly move on – but her people, the finch people, they stay year-round and care for the beach. This beach belongs to her people.
I thought that was amazing, and it made sense too. A finch reincarnating in the same environment it knew in its’ past life would remember where all the food is, which way the wind blows during storms, where to build a nest, where the predators lurk.
It seems this reincarnation in bird families can happen in farm flocks too – here are the roosters, happily awaiting the next opportunity to re-enter an egg, to grow up all over again on the farm, to emerge into rooster-hood and then leave their bodies feeling the gratitude of the humans for growing their nutritious rooster bodies so well. It is a life cycle they seem eager to repeat.
Tracey, for her part, is delighted to know her rooster friends will come back to her. She feels a joy in farming she didn’t know could be possible. Culling roosters and aging hens is a reality of farm life, and for too many farmers this necessity means closing their hearts to the animals who depend upon them for humane treatment. For some farmers, this may even mean judging others who are compassionate and empathetic to the animals’ experience.
Tracey is an empathetic person herself, and passionate about responsibility and self-reliance. She grows most of her food in her backyard garden. The eggs and meat come from her chickens, and she has come to a place in her farming where she can feel and express gratitude for their eggs and bodies, as it is necessary to nourish her own.
I think that’s amazing.
What I want this entry to be about is understanding that there can be a connectedness, a continuity to farming and eating farm animals. That we can look at an animal friend and ask for their consent before killing them for food. To do that, we should be prepared for the possibility that they do not consent – and what is to be done then? I don’t know. That problem hasn’t arisen for me yet.
What is really cool about my friend is she is using her compassion and her intuition to manage her backyard flock, and it gives me great hope for the future. Perhaps this is the future of farming, where we respect the sentience and experience of all living creatures, yet we do not all need to become vegan to find this place of peace and compassion.