Bonding with our backyard brood

See those hens perched on our lounge chair above? Those are free-range chickens. Yes, they have a coop, but on certain days we let them roam. They forage in our gardens, take dust baths in the dirt and follow us around. When we duck into the house, they wait patiently by the back door until we emerge again. Interestingly, they stay within the boundaries of our yard, never crossing the road.

We’re convinced the hens are practiced in face recognition. They prefer my husband, Michael, to anyone else, and will run comically toward him whenever he is in the vicinity. A few will crane their necks, hoping for a chin rub.

This is not a surprise to us. Michael has a kinship with the animal kingdom. Bluebirds land on his shoulder. Wary dogs warm up to him quickly. The cats in residence can’t keep their paws off. Proof of his animal magnetism is exhibited in the photo below. Yes, that’s a chipmunk on top of his head, seeking refuge from our prowling cats.

Chipmunk on head
Safety zone

I never thought of chickens as thinking, feeling beings. Or smart. Being a chicken tender has altered my view considerably. At the risk of anthropomorphic, it seems chickens have memories. They definitely have a communication system. In  our observations, soft clucks signal contentedness, while rapid clucks signal fear. We imagine them calling to one another, Fox alert! Make a beeline for the coop.

In all seriousness, research shows that each call has a different meaning—gathering the chicks, alarm, where to find food. Chickens even have a different call to warn about predators advancing from the ground versus those swooping from the sky.

We have a symbiotic relationship with the hens. They provide us with nutritious little orbs of goodness daily. In turn, we provide them with clean straw, food, a place to roam, periodic chin rubs and, on a golden day, watermelon rinds.

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