Leaving the chicken race

The 11 chicks I hatched out in my incubator in April are growing like crazy. Their soft down is being replaced by feathers and the birds that they will be are slowly emerging.

The 11 chicks I hatched out in my incubator in April are growing like crazy.

Their soft down is being replaced by feathers and the birds that they will be are slowly emerging.

It’s sort of like those game shows where one piece of a picture is filled in at a time until you shout out, “It’s Mount Rushmore!” or in this case, “It’s a chocolate brown chicken with partridge patterned wings and a white chest!”

I spend a great deal of time playing “guess that chick” — a game of trying to figure out which are hens and which are roosters.

As for the chicks, they have a game of their own called, “Get that wood chip!”

How it works is one chick suddenly scoops a wood chip out of their bedding and starts to run. Immediately all the other chicks decide that they need that particular woodchip too. Around and around the coop they race squawking and flapping, ricocheting off the feed and water troughs.

Then success! One of the other chicks manages to snatch the wood chip away. Happy beyond belief he stops to savour the moment, only to realize that the other 10 chicks have now turned their attention to him and if he’s going to hang on to that wood chip he has to outrun them. And on it goes.

There is no good reason to covet the wood chip. They can’t eat it or use it for anything. And what’s more, there are thousands of other wood chips just like it right beneath their very feet. The only reason they want this particular little wood chip is because another chick does.

The game starts to wrap itself up when one chick leaves the fray to check out the feed trough. At this point a few other chicks abandon their mad pursuit of the glorious wood chip to join the chick at the trough, while a couple others are suddenly distracted by a sunspot on the wall. However, there are always a few committed diehards that continue to battle it out until exhaustion sets in or they lose the woodchip.

Oh, how easy to dismiss them as poor dumb clucks if it weren’t for their game’s unsettling similarities to human behaviour.

Think about it. There we are, going about our business feeling happy and content when all of a sudden we see someone running by with something we don’t have. It could be a new job, a new car or simply a new set of golf clubs.

In a matter of minutes we’re running after them, if not physically, than at least with our minds. Now all we can think about is how we need to get what they have so we can be happy too. Never mind that we were perfectly happy and content before they went by.

Of course some people are more competitive than others. They set their eyes on the prize and it doesn’t matter whose beak they rip it out of or what gets knocked aside along the way. They want all the little wood chips for themselves and hang the cost. Others get swept along in the excitement for a few laps, but are soon overwhelmed by the commitment or put off by the greed. Or they decide winning the prize only to constantly look over their shoulder in fear of someone snatching it away from them again just isn’t worth it. As long as there’s enough food in their trough they’re happy. Then there are the ones that see a light and strike off on a personal quest that leave the rest scratching their beaks in bewilderment.

After spending so much time watching my chicks I have come to the conclusion that the rat race could just as aptly be dubbed the chicken race. I have also decided that I am forever done with chasing wood chips.

If my farm plans come together there should be more than enough food in my trough and that’s good enough for me. But I’m not ruling out examining a few sunspots along the way.

Who knew a person could gain so much insight into the human race just from spending a few hours perched on an upturned bucket in the corner of a chicken coop? As for figuring out which chicks are roosters and which ones are hens, alas, I still don’t have a clue.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. She can be reached by email at contact@shannonmckinnon.com

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