I don’t suppose many people give chickens a second thought other than to wonder how to cook them. But I enjoy living with my little clutch of hens and find them really interesting. Did you know that they can change colour? I have, for example, what used to be a completely snow white Legbar. Her autumn moult last year was radical and for a while she pottered about almost stark naked. This was not the prettiest of sights, but then her new plumage grew and lo and behold, she is now dove grey and very elegant too.
And did you know that the females can turn into males? A hen will suddenly grow a mascule comb and undergo a complete personality change which includes crowing loudly at four in the morning. Although, after the transition, the rooster will not be able to fertilze the remaining hens, he will behave as though he can and who am I to rain on his newly established parade?
And yes, it is true. When the hens roost at night, they settle down closely packed next to each other (presumably for warmth) but facing in alternating opposite directions. I was told this was a myth, but they invariably line up in bed: numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7 facing one way and 2, 4, 6 and 8 facing in the opposite direction. All to do with collective safety and being on the lookout for danger. Clever ladies.
But I have kept the smartest hen habit for last and this one is extraordinary. They are able to use their 2 eyes independently and their brains can process simultaneously two totally different optic images. So a hen can be spotting a tasty worm on the lawn with one eye, while the second eye keeps a look out for that bird of prey that might drop out of the sky and attack the hen.
In over a decade of keeping hens, I have never tired of the joy of collecting the eggs everyday. I also never fail to smile at the fussy chook, chook sound they make when they realise I have appeared armed with a special treat for them. And very deserving of those treats they are too.