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Faith in Vermont: Love in the Poultry Yard

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Posted on May 22, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



“I think those hens are about to start a #MeToo movement,” my husband said, coming in one night after tucking our chickens into their coop. 

Yes, spring fever has struck our poultry. Watching the chickens and ducks act on their hormonal urges, I can almost hear the voice of Friend Owl in Bambi: “Nearly everybody gets ‘twitterpated’ in the spring!” 

In that Disney-fied, animated world, being “twitterpated” involves a lot of animals fluttering their eyelashes, blushing under their fur, and slinking off into the flowers. That is not the truth; at least, not in our poultry yard.

There is no romance about it: The mating rituals of our poultry begin like the games of “Boys Chase Girls” that I remember from my elementary school playground: A rooster gets a beeline on a hen, or a drake sets his sights on a dam, and they’re off in a blur of flapping feathers and maniacal squawking. The male catches the female by grabbing her neck with his beak. While she continues to squawk and flap, he pushes her to the ground and climbs on her back. 

Then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. The female gives a dignified little shake of her tail feathers, and the male scratches the ground in search of ticks.

It’s “Wham, Bam, Thank You, Ma’am,” only less polite. It’s enough to make one want to organize those hens and dams in protest. 

This spring, we have an interesting little subplot going on, because we have two roosters: Elvis, our original rooster, and his young son who hatched last August and has now reached maturity (my daughters named him “Prince Marble,” but my husband and I usually refer to him simply as “Mini Rooster.”)

Two roosters to 11 hens; you’d think that ratio would keep everyone happy. Elvis doesn’t see it that way, though: His mission this spring is to make sure that Mini Rooster gets as little action as possible. Should Mini Rooster even look at a hen, Elvis is after him like a shot, around and around the poultry yard until any ardor has long since cooled. 

Poor Mini Rooster! Here he is in his prime, and his cocky father won’t even let him near a member of the opposite sex. Instead, he’s had to settle for Mrs. Cluckington.

To be fair, Mrs. Cluckington isn’t a bad choice: She’s a beautiful old Orpington, all fluffy golden curves. She lays about one egg a week, but we keep her around because she’s just so sweet. 

Elvis doesn’t go near Mrs. Cluckington – nobody really goes near her, except Mini Rooster, who follows her around like a lovesick puppy. Mrs. Cluckington is as different from all of our other chickens so as to be nearly a separate species. The rest of our hens -- and both roosters -- are bantams. “Bantam” isn’t a breed; as in boxing, it refers to size, specifically small size. The majority of our chicken flock is tiny, except for curvaceous Mrs. Cluckington. Think Mae West next to a group of teeny-boppers, and that about captures it. 

So, while Elvis runs around assaulting the rest of the hens, Mini Rooster moons around Mrs. Cluckington. Every once in a while, he makes a move and tries to hop on top of her. Their size difference being what it is, I’m not sure that this actually “works,” if you know what I mean, but it hasn’t stopped his attempts. 

This entire soap opera plays out every day just outside our windows. It’s better than television, I tell you; it’s like “As the Coop Turns,” “Days of our Scratch,” and “The Young and the Eggless” rolled into one.

The only thing that worries me is that my daughters are watching it, too.

It must be disturbing to grow up with the mating habits of poultry as your first eyewitness experience of reproduction. I wouldn’t know; where I came from, everyone had one house pet, and that was it. 

My daughters have a decent grasp of the biology behind babies, but they’re still young enough to be disgusted by romance. Any kissing scene in a movie sends them into paroxysms of retching and gagging. “Are they actually enjoying this?!?” one daughter asked, aghast at what she considered an overly-long movie kiss. As of right now, none of my daughters is going to get married or have children. (Well, okay, maybe they’ll adopt some children: one, or five, or ten. They’ll raise those adopted children as single moms, alongside the pack of dogs that they also plan to care for in the treehouse that they’ll build right next door to our house.) 

My daughters can’t stomach kissing in movies, but they sure enjoy watching the poultry in action. Instead of disgust, they respond to poultry mating with fascination. Sometimes, they try to intervene; “Get off of her, Elvis!” is an oft-heard cry these days. 

To be honest, I haven’t been quite sure how to handle the topic of poultry mating with my daughters. Do I explain that these are not relationships to be emulated? “Don’t date anybody who treats you the way Elvis treats those hens,” for instance? 

“Wow!” one of my daughters said after observing Elvis ambush another hen,” Is that what it’s like to get married? Do I just get to JUMP on top of my husband?!?” 

“Um, well….” I began, before her attention was mercifully diverted by something else. 

Biology is all well and good, but to be human is to long for more. We yearn for respect, for common interests and goals, for spiritual connection, for the kind of intimacy in which we are seen, known, and loved regardless. These are the things I wish for my daughters’ future relationships, and these are exactly the things that are absent from our poultry yard. 

So, when it comes to explaining barnyard romance to my daughters, for the moment I am…twitterpated. 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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