lessons from the hen housePosted: February 9, 2012
Rosie was an ordinary chicken. A Rhode Island Red that I bought for my children when we moved from Sydney to our farm on the Mid-North Coast. I remember the day we picked her up from the store in town. The kids were so excited. We had brought a big cardboard box. We gave it to the man in the shop and he walked into the holding cage that contained what seemed to be about 30 chickens. He just randomly picked up birds from the flock. We bought four chickens to start our little chicken farm. The thought of fresh eggs each day was exciting and the kids loved the idea of having chickens as pets.
We got home and continued building the new chicken shed. In the meantime we put the chickens in a temporary pen in the yard. We were only home half an hour and the children had gone from being a little stand offish to sitting inside the chicken coop with four chickens hand feeding and playing with them. It was a sight to behold!
The next day we finished the new chicken coop and our four feathery friends had a new home. We fed them and watered them and the kids spent a day chasing chickens and our two ducks around the yard. It was pure bliss!
We woke the next morning to find all four chickens out roaming our back yard. It seemed the eight foot chicken wire did little to keep them in. After half an hour of chasing chickens we had them all back in their pen again and set about trying to figure out how to keep them in. We couldn’t find where they had gotten out so we just figured try again. That night we wandered down to the pen just on dusk to say goodnight to our new friends and found that instead of roosting in their nice new hen house they had all flown up into the plum tree and were sitting on the branches outside the yard. So this is how they were escaping. We put them all back in the yard but within a few minutes they were back in the tree! This wasn’t going to work.
A few days passed and whilst we hadn’t really found a solution to our problem, other than each morning spending half an hour chasing chickens, what had happened was that only two chickens were getting out each night. A few more days passed and then there was only one chicken hell bent on flying out and wondering the yard. Rosie!
After several days, we kinda got tired of chasing Rosie and she managed to find her own way back into the pen, so we figured that she was a big chicken and could look after herself.
Rosie soon became the children’s favourite. She was a lovely chicken. The first to lay eggs, the most friendly, the most adventurous, the one with the most attitude. We all liked her and I still found that I liked to spend a bit of time each day putting her back in her pen. Just like a parent looking after another of my children.
Over several weeks Rosie became very adventurous. We would often wake to find Rosie on the veranda being chased by our new puppy, Billy, or we would find her under the house, or out in the shed, or eating Billy’s dog food, or down by the dam. There was no stopping Rosie! She had a free range of the yard. She ate what she liked, when she liked. She was soon the boss of the hen house! We all loved Rosie.
Billy, our 12 week old lab, loved to chase Rosie. He caught her a few times but never hurt her and even this didn’t put Rosie off. She would still flaunt it and walk right in front of Billy as if to say “come play with me”.
It was a wonderful thing. Kids in heaven, fresh eggs each day and a beautiful chicken with personality.
Then one day I walked down to the pen to feed the chickens and there was Rosie stuck in the outside fencing. All the other chickens on the inside gathered around. I thought “you silly thing Rosie, how did you get stuck there?”, but as I approached I could see that she wasn’t stuck she was actually trying to hide. I picked her up and found dripping blood. I thought something had bitten her and immediately blamed Billy (I later found out it was a huge goanna that had done the damage). I put her back in her pen but the other chickens started to chase her and peck at her so I picked her up and took a closer look. She was in pretty bad shape. Her right wing had been pretty severely mauled and half of her breast was missing. I actually couldn’t believe she was still alive. I held her close and stroked her soft red feathers. I looked in her eye and could tell that she knew it was over. There was nothing that could be done. It was just a matter of time …
In that moment I realised what a beautiful bird Rosie really was. She was courageous to the end.
As the days passed I reflected on Rosie’s life and thought what a great example she was. She showed us all how to live each day of our life. She didn’t know that her life was to be cut short. She just lived. She stepped outside the coop and lived. She was adventurous. She was courageous. She became our favourite and the leader of her flock. She played with Billy; she wandered free and received the untold affection of my children. She was loved!
How many of us step outside our pen and really experience life. Really live our lives. There are risks associated with this. Chased by dogs, chased by children and ultimately Rosie paid the highest price and lost her life. But, along the way she lived every moment. I am sure that if she had her time all over again, she would do the same thing.
It can be dangerous to step out and live. Far easier to just hang back with the flock. You don’t have to fly up and stretch your wings each day to rise above the high fences holding you back. You don’t have to risk your neck to feed yourself. You just lay your eggs and each day someone comes along and gives you enough water and food to make it through to the next day. It’s not a bad life. Safety, food, other chickens. But you never really see what’s on the other side of the fence. You’re never really free. You never really live.