December 21, 2015

The Zen of the Hen.

Lady Grey & Millie

I’ve been a proud chicken momma for over five years now.

But raising chickens has its ups and downs.

It’s very much like having any other pet. I’ve adopted chickens, I’ve hatched some chicks and I’ve also had to mourn the loss of some chickens. Millie, Phyllis, Lady Grey, Spoticus, Jemima, Ruby and Roo are or have been my chickens and just like our beloved dogs, they are a part of the family.

Living in a city limits the number of chickens I can have in my backyard, which is probably a good thing since if left to my own devices, I would easily take in at least 20.

Having chickens in your backyard is advantageous on so many levels. Firstly, fresh and free eggs on the daily! Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a rooster in order to get eggs. Chickens will ovulate about once a day, so if your chicken is in its prime, you’re likely to have at least one egg for every chicken per day. The other brilliant aspect of raising chickens is that you know where your eggs come from. You know that your egg came from a chicken that isn’t locked up in a cramped cage but from a happy chicken that knows it’s loved and whose food source is also controlled and monitored by you.

Chickens are also the best garbage disposals ever. Almost all vegetarian table scraps go directly to my girls. And they love it! There are a few things you shouldn’t give them—raw green potato skins (it’s toxic for them) and onions (unless you like oniony-tasting eggs). My hens’ favorite leftovers are corn on the cob—they will pick the cob clean—and cheese pizza of course! Yes, cheese pizza. They go nuts for it.

They are also excellent bug exterminators. There is no need for any sort of bug spray (besides the fact that it could be toxic to humans as well as pets), because chickens love spiders, worms, slugs and even termites.

Although chickens are master exterminators they are love bugs in their own right. Now some of this may have to do with the breed of chicken, as some are more docile than others. Choose wisely! We’ve had a number of different breeds of chickens over time. We’ve had great luck with our Buff Orpington, Black Australorp and Mille Fleur Bantam. Our Mille Fleur, aptly named Millie, is the sweetest of the bunch. She was raised in a classroom of kids and we were lucky enough to be able to adopt her at the end of the school year. She loves being around people and happily perches herself on my shoulder. She’s also a Bantam, which means she’s a smaller breed of chicken slightly bigger than a pigeon.

Caring for chickens may seem like a daunting task but it’s more beneficial than one would think. I find that I spend more time hanging out in my garden than I otherwise would. Checking in on my chickens gets me to stop and literally smell the roses. This time offers me a chance to take a break and get back to nature. That’s something that as city dwellers we don’t do enough of because it either requires getting into a car and driving some place or it means having to willingly disconnect from our gadgets. Oh the horror!

Having chickens as pets forces me to slow down, to take a pause, to appreciate their beauty and to breathe in the fresh air in my garden. Before you know it, you are sucked into what can only be described as “Chicken TV.” It is the absolute best part of having your own backyard flock. You find yourself watching them forage and scratch, wander and sunbathe for what seems like a few minutes when in fact almost 30 minutes have gone by. Observing their activities put us in a meditative state that we would otherwise find difficulty making time for. This Zenlike state is peaceful and fun, and it allows you to clear your mind. Watching chickens go about their routine breaks up ours—and it’s liberating.

I read somewhere that Zen is about pointing out the universal everyday wisdom which is all around us and about experiencing things purely as they are. That’s exactly what happens when I watch Chicken TV. I am able to step out of the chaos, the daily hustle of life and just be. And the funny thing is the chickens have no idea of the benefit they serve. They’re just doing their chicken thing!

It brings to mind a quote by Robert Pirsig: “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring with you.”

We are all capable of a mindful life. However, we may not always be aware of it or even think it’s possible. If you were to ask me if I meditate, I’d probably admit to maybe a few times a month of conscious meditation. But hanging out with my chickens brings it out in me too. I’ve come to realize that I do bring the Zen with me albeit with a little cluck cluck on the side.


Relephant Links:

When Respect Looks Like Killing Chickens.


Author: Brenda Davidge

Apprentice Editor: Angeline Leow / Editor: Caitlin Oriel 

Photo: Author’s own

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Brenda Davidge