Ginny, my black Australorp, has begun assuming the position. It’s a curious, unmistakable posture: When I approach her, she rapidly drums her feet until she has established a stable base. Then she squats low to the ground, lifts her wings at the shoulders, and waits.
The first time one of my pullets did this, I was baffled, and a bit concerned. I’d not kept chickens before, and my conscientious study of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow — the primer and go-to guide on which I relied in those early days — said nothing about it. Was it a sign of sickness, some neurological weirdness that would infect my little flock and undo them, along with my best intentions?
But as time passed, a pattern became apparent: Each pullet behaved this way shortly before she laid her first egg. And it gradually dawned on me that they were standing for me — their rooster — so I could fertilize the eggs about ready to wend their ways down their oviducts.
This understanding touches me. It is a sure sign that my girls see me as not only part of their family, but its titular (if not species-appropriate) head. In their little chicken minds, I am part of the whole.
It also bemuses me, as I lack not only the equipment but the desire to love my chickens in the way “the position” invites. (You know: I love you, but I’m not in love with you.) So I have settled on a platonic yet physically reassuring response: When a hen squats for me, I stroke her back gently but firmly for several seconds, after which she stands upright, shakes out her feathers and goes about her business.
I sense this is less than satisfying for them — it is not precisely the sensation they anticipate and there is no evident afterglow — but it is the best I can do. I have chosen to forgo a rooster because they typically are hard on hens – given more to rape than to chivalry – and noisy in a way that might perturb neighbors in my little mountain town. Nor do I want fertile eggs, with the moral complexities they represent. So my hens are stuck with a “rooster” who approximates a prepubescent boy, seemingly clueless about their desire for something more than affectionate stroking.
To which I can only say: Dealing with humans is a frustrating business, rife with near misses and other disappointments. You don’t always get what you want, and you sometimes don’t even get what you need. I guess it’s time now to have that talk with my girls, as we make passage together – their avian perfection and my flawed humanity — into their lives as laying hens.