Naming Coila

One probably shouldn’t name an animal one might be eating.

Barbara Kingsolver, among others, recommends this. Still, I named Coila this week, even knowing her future at Fern Creek might be severely curtailed on account of being a Mean Bird. Coila is in isolation, and not because she’s sick or wounded. I pulled this nameless Gold Sex Link pullet from the flock of chicks because she delighted in going from pullet to pullet pecking them on the back. The others ran from her, hid underneath each other and in whatever darkish corner they could find in the hen house. This particular pecking was not about establishing a pecking order, mind you, which we understand as important to a flock of birds (as it seems to be to humans), however cruel and seemingly senseless. No, this pecking was about being mean. Maybe in a sociopathic sort of way.

Last year we had a couple such hens and ended up with a flock of birds pecked so badly their backs were red and bare. This year we have been attentive for such behavior. Maybe overly so. I’ve named a number of these hens, usually the shy and easily intimated ones, like Sule and Sophie, the Ameracuanas who walk around the hen house chest to chest as though they are attached.

Coila has one more chance to decide to play nice, and if she doesn’t we’ll be having young hen for supper one of these days.

By separating her for a whole week she goes to the bottom of the pecking order and (hopefully) she will be so glad to be integrated again that she will have decided meanness is not a productive way to live.

Oh that we could all learn that so easily! Actually, she might not either. This behavior may be more hard-wired into her than that. I want to think she has a capacity for regret and repentance.

Hens are flock birds–they do not like to live alone–their survival depends on living within a community of sorts. Being the soft-hearted empathetic farmer that I am I started feeling sorry for this 7 week old chick that wanted company, even if it was me, whom she has been mostly afraid of even though I’ve only given her good gifts.

At least until I isolated

So I offer to hold her and she readily lets me pick her up (new behavior, that), and the last couple of days I’ve invited her to be with me while I hung up laundry, planted chard, dug out blackberry and ivy vines, and checked mouse traps set out by the newly planted peas.  At some point I gave her a name. At the beginning and end of our ventures she likes to nestle in my arms, otherwise she’s on my shoulder or never more than five or ten feet away, often underfoot in rather precarious ways. When I sat in the swing with her after pulling vines in the forest she fell asleep.

She accepts me because she has no options. If only she knew that I want what is best for her, and best for the flock always, that my attentiveness and intervention is because I care for their wellbeing, then maybe she wouldn’t be so fearful and avoidant of me when she has more choice over her companions and distractions.

It occurs to me there are pictures of God’s attention and love all around.

At any rate, I’m wondering how she’ll act toward me after I reintegrate her tomorrow. Assuming she doesn’t start pecking everyone again, how long will it take for her to forget these few days spent together?





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