I admit it, I have been wrong. Well maybe just slightly wrong.
Over the past year and a half living in Malawi, I have been outspoken in my dislike of chickens. I have refused to have anything to do with our chicken chore team. I have argued against getting more chickens. I have avoided touching them at all costs, particularly around the beak region. I have generally tried to ignore the fact that they are around.
I’m pretty sure that my dislike stems from fear; fear born of being bit by a chicken when I was young and my family was staying at a farm on an island off the coast of Canada. Being too close to a chicken makes me nervous. You can’t predict where they’re going to move next. They could peck your toes at any moment. Maybe even your knees and fingers. And they’re stupid. Oh so stupid.
In Zambia, when I was gutting chickens with the mayos (women), we always had to chase off the other chickens trying to steal pieces. Gross. Their beady little eyes are totally vacant and their legs are ugly. Have I mentioned they’re stupid? Oh so stupid.
(Of course none of this has stopped me from enjoying the farm fresh eggs from our centre chickens with the orangest yolks I have ever seen.)
However this past week may have proven me wrong. At least on the “oh so” part.
A few weeks ago the only redeeming aspect of chicken rearing – namely the aforementioned eggs – dried up. Our chickens stopped laying eggs. We wondered, maybe they’re molting? But they don’t look any uglier than normal. Maybe we aren’t feeding them enough? But they have beautiful yards filled with bugs and grubs – not to mention that they get a good amount of kitchen scraps and maize chaff every day.
We were stumped. Maybe they were just pooping out young.
However Tuesday we had a breakthrough. Someone saw a chicken sneak into a hole under the nesting box. What was she doing down there?
Turns out, she was sitting on a mountain of eggs. For weeks, she’d been gathering up all the eggs and hoarding them in her little hiding place. Since we couldn’t tell how long any of them had been there, we let her keep them all.
And a good thing we did!
The very evening of discovery, the chicks began to hatch. While we do not now have a mountain of baby chicks, we do have seven. Which is pretty good. And adorable – they don’t get ugly until around month two or three. The rest of the eggs we shoved under another broody chicken. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a few more!
Long story short, that chicken wanted to be a mama so badly she out-smarted us. And while I have discovered that my fear of chickens still overwhelmingly impacts my feelings towards them, I will admit that chickens do still retain some small instinctual intelligence. So maybe they’re only just plain stupid.