Ever since I puckered up the courage to re-home my rooster Taz, I’ve been feeling guilty about the lack of stimulation in my chickens’ lives. He is off to a randy new free-range home that includes not only hens and other roosters with whom he might develop a bromance, but an eclectic assortment of other interesting animals.
My hens, by contrast, remain stuck in a largely boring side yard, where they must now, additionally, do without the excitement of being run down, pinned and bred, er …. wined, dined and otherwise courted by the man bird.
You might think that stimulation wouldn’t matter to a creature as simple as a chicken, but you’d be wrong. In fact, research has shown that chickens are smarter than human toddlers. Yep. After a scant 21 days in the egg, chickens emerge largely ready to take care of themselves, and quickly develop logical reasoning and self-control. Humans, by contrast, spend nine months in the womb and — even after a few years in the outside world drooling, pooping and looking around blankly — still appear to be very small village idiots.
The chicken’s superior brainpower is evident to anyone who has spent even the briefest time with both poultry and toddlers. I mean, look:
Nonetheless, human parents each year spend millions of dollars and countless hours attempting to stimulate the invisible intellect of their offspring. Because, as Vice President Dan Quayle memorably mangled the motto of the United Negro College Fund: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful, how true that is.”
So the least I can do as a keeper of hens is invest a little time and a few dollars in supporting obvious avian intelligence. And it’s evident that I’m not alone in shouldering that responsibility. A quick Internet search revealed that thousands of other people with nothing better to do with their lives, uh … astute and sensitive flock-keepers worldwide are trying to address the problem of bored birds.
Some of the remedies are straightforward: Give the chickens straw or hay in which to scratch. Make sure they have access to dirt for dust baths. Provide a “flock block” of compressed feed and grain at which they can peck when bored.
Others take a little ingenuity – for instance, drilling 1/4-inch holes in plastic pop bottles, filling them with seed and then capping them, encouraging the birds to roll the bottles around to get at the treat. I plan to try that tomorrow.
Being a proactive sort, I have already commandeered the uber-long bit left behind by the cable guy and drilled a hole through a head of cabbage, which I then suspended in the girls’ run. This delighted them for 30 seconds. (Babies, by contrast, can spend long minutes gazing at their own toes, unaware, even, that they are attached. Just sayin’.)
However, these efforts pale in comparison to my next project, which will commence as soon as I have secured the requisite supplies: a chicken jungle gym. Stay tuned.