Note: I wrote this just after Thanksgiving. We have since gotten a new Chicken. Her name is Dundren.
I have learned over my life that I do not hate human animal relationships where the human is dominant. I have a dominant role over my dog. I don’t believe the christian myth that humans’ job is to watch over the animals. I think the animals were doing just fine on their own. Better in many cases. But not so with the chicken. No, with my chickens I have to play the role of the protector. But I hope that doesn’t have to mean dominance. One thing about animals being free is that other animals want to eat them. This is my second time around with this lesson. I still don’t know where I stand.
My chickens were free range within my backyard. This fall, they were both scared out of my yard by a cat, and one of them disappeared, she probably died. I let them be free. We have tall hedges surrounding our backyard. They had a coop, and a yard. They quickly made it clear to me that the green lawn was more interesting then their brown straw mashed down bit of earth. So I started allowing them to fly over the fence. I fenced in my garden and let them roam. They started sleeping up in trees. They liked it. Who wouldn’t? The wind blowing while you sleep. In the cold weather they hung out up there even during the day. They took roost in a big old pine tree in the back yard.
When cold rainy weather came I couldn’t lure them back into the coop to stay dry. They slept in the tree all through the freeze and I was concerned for them. But they seemed ok each morning. They ate lots of grain and stayed up in the tree a lot. Or somewhere. I couldn’t see them. Then Firebird went missing, leaving a trail of feathers behind and her best friend on the neighbor’s roof. Yes, I am the girl whose chicken is on the neighbor’s roof on Thanksgiving morning. I am the girl whose dog was taken in by the town drunk when Rudy wandered across a busy road. I am the one whose cat was eating the food put out by stray cats. His collar now says “I wander, I’m ok if near my home.’ I told the women that if she let the stray cats beat him up that he would stop coming over for food. She didn’t seem to into it.
If I take on the responsibility of protecting animals and defining their circumstance, I better do a good job. The question is, does that mean protecting them from being hurt, or does it mean making their lives good? I don’t know the answer. But I think I know a more practical answer. The chickens need to sleep inside in the cold weather, and have a secure coop and pen, but they can still free range in the backyard during the day.