Before I say chickens are timid creatures, let me first hand it to them: they are resilient and brave little creatures too. Just hours old, tiny (the size of an egg), shipped cross-country in a box, handled by giants of another species – they manage it amazingly well. The spark of life, the impulse to thrive, is a formidable thing. It makes heroes of the littlest among us.
Now I’ll say it: chickens are timid creatures. That same impulse to thrive, coupled with a DNA-level knowledge that they live in a world that collectively says, “mmm, tastes like chicken!” makes them run, screaming, every time you come near them, which you do a lot when they’re baby chicks. OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!! Really? I’m bringing you new food and water, and checking your poopy little butts, for the third time today, like I do every day, and I’ve never hurt you, and you still think I’m here to kill you?
What they don’t know, when they arrive in the box to Dyberry Creek Farm, is that they have just joined the 0.0000001%. Surely some very few other chickens on earth have a life as good, but none has it better. These will be chickens with names (with their own webpages forgoshsakes), destined to live out their full natural life spans protected from predators, fed organic food, nested in organic bedding, and free to spend their days ambling with their friends across acres of gorgeous natural landscape. But first, they have to get over their fears, of everything, and progress, step by step, to that lovely freedom.
[The stages of free-ranging. Tiniest in the wire circle, mediums in the tractor, biggest out enjoying the yard.]
Is this how we live too, without knowing it? Here is the metaphor. I know what free-ranging is, and how much they’re going to enjoy what lies in store for them…but they don’t. I watch them carefully, protectively, waiting to see when they’re ready for each next stage – when they can move from the boring but ultra-safe brooding box to the stall; when they’re old enough to handle a little dew in the grass on their first warm day out in the sunshine, protected by a circle of wire netting; when they’re big enough not to hurt themselves out in the chicken tractor; and that exceptional day when they’re large and fast-moving enough that the tractor door gets opened, and (though they don’t immediately realize it) they’re…free. Stage by stage, they mostly respond to the hand that reaches to carry them (mine, that is) with squawking terror. Each time, I gently place the screaming birds in a new place, and watch them take a couple steps – in the fresh new hemp stall bedding, in the green grass and clover – and see them suddenly light up in joy. WOW!! Who knew life could be even better? I did, little ones. There was nothing to be scared of.
I want to be free, too. Don’t you? Is there actually nothing to fear from the forces that move us from one stage to the next? It sure doesn’t feel that way, does it, my fellow chickens? I’d love to know how close I am to that door that opens to the full expanse of grassy lawn, and whether the only thing that limits me is my habit of not walking too far from the familiar fenceline. Not a chicken, I am at least aware of the possibility. Like a chicken, I suspect, I have no real idea of that other world, what grass is when I’m accustomed to my comfortable cardboard. All too often, I no doubt compel the benign and adoring forces of progress to chase me, corner me, grab me, pin my wings so I don’t hurt myself – and I’m too busy freaking out to hear them sweetly talking to me, saying, “Hey now, calm down, you’re going to love this…”
[If you question whether chickens really care about freedom, check out the scene inside the coop when the door opens. Arguably, there’s only one thing roosters love more than freedom – demonstrated by Seven, the white rooster, in the bottom left-hand corner a few seconds into the video.]
[Again, Seven, our porn star, is at it again. Freedom is great, but even better is a flying f@*% on the way out!]