Fowl weather report

This is not Big Important News -- no economic meltdowns or international showdowns. It's just a note about a new generation of backyard chickens trying to fit in.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
An indigenous woman holds a rooster for sale during the weekly market IN Chichica stenango, Guatemala.

A new generation of spring chickens, fuzzy and endearingly incompetent, arrived at our New England home six weeks ago. They are replacements. During the hungry winter months, a red-tailed hawk visited. Hawks are admirable in their own way. So despite the drama, there are no hard feelings. And because this is the time of year the biota of the Northern Hemisphere bust loose, predators now have other options. 

With Memorial Day approaching, we are well beyond spring’s delicate, tentative sprouting – the mix of last year’s memory and this year’s desire, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot. The fiesta of summer is about to begin.

The new chicks have their pinfeathers and are experimenting with flying (which they’ll never win prizes for, but, hey, a hawk can’t hit Mach 1). During the warm-up of mid-May, we moved them to a mini-coop adjacent to the shed that houses the backyard flock we’ve had for the past three years. The class of 2012 (Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, and Sex Links) has bonded over water and mash and a popular warming light. Now their range is extending. Ahead lie the treacherous shoals of integration with those who arrived before them.

Precedence is a powerful force. No matter how gradually integration is engineered, there’s no way to avoid issues as older fowl assert their pecking order. No amount of human intervention – not helicopter parenting, not shaming, not a court order – can stop the hazing. Generation 1 did it to Gen 2. Both will do it to Gen 3.

But we intervene anyway. Nature doesn’t get to take its course in a backyard. Without intervention, without the human impulse to adjust the balance, try something different, build or spend or pay without a thought of return on investment, nature would prevail. We’d have no artwork, cultivar roses, sonatas, or soufflés. As seen in a thousand PBS TV shows, nature can be magnificent. But left to its own devices, it can also break your heart.

Which is not what chickens do, unless you are a worm.  Chickens are an odd mix of adventurer and comedian. Even their physiques are amusing – plump, friendly bodies that look like miniature Spanish galleons, bracketed by boney talons and wary faces. Happen upon a few in the garden and they’ll shriek and run for their lives, certain you are eyeing them for dinner. But work the ground for a minute and they’re practically riding your spade to get a look at the freshly turned earth.

The best part about chickens (besides the eggs) is encountering them after a long day when they’ve been busy doing their own thing – scratching, pecking, and worrying every interesting inch of a garden. Suddenly, they see you – and you’re a rock star. With no thought for decorum, they race zanily in your direction, a madcap armada hoping for a handful of corn. They practically throw themselves in your path, crouching to be petted. Choose me! No, me! 

The other best part is when they put themselves to bed at night, setting aside their political snits and cooing contentedly, as if they are talking about what a great day they had, because, well, they all got to be here at this time and this place, enjoying this sun, and dirt, and these interesting circumstances.

We can have deep and heartfelt differences with each other. We can be Sunni or Shiite, Republican or Democrat, chicken or hawk. Summer is a reminder that we all get to enjoy the same sun warming the same magnificent planet.

John Yemma is editor of the Monitor. You can reach him at

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