As I sit at my desk this morning, a large white rooster and
two sturdy brown hens are traipsing through the grass outside my
window. Watching them I agree with chicken keeper Dorothy English
of Illinois who says that "People who just have lawn ornaments are
really missing out."
People who know chickens would agree. Some grew up with
chickens on farms, others got to know them in suburban settings.
New York attorney, Barbara Monroe, had never really seen a chicken
till her daughter bought a baby white leghorn rooster from a
peddler. To her, "The most amazing thing about Lucie is the way
he's adapted to suburban life," sitting in a car like a person or
on the sofa watching TV with the family. Merry Caplan of Louisiana
got a chicken by surprise one day when a neighbor brought her a
fuzzy black baby bird who made a beautiful trilling sound. For a
while Merry didn't know if she had a rooster or a hen. She carried
"Charlie" in her pocket, tucking her into a shoe box at night where
"She continued her beautiful song and chirped herself to sleep."
How did Celeste Albritton of Texas meet Cluck Cluck? "I never
dreamed of having a companion chicken till one day a dog drug this
chicken home. She was hurt, so Mom and I took care of her till she
was well. Now she's part of our family." Celeste and Merry both
got roosters for their hens. Cluck Cluck has Chick Chick and
Charlie has Chuck, who Merry says, "Sits next to her while she lays
her egg and announces the event with a series of cock-a-doodle-
Like Celeste, Sharon DeHaven of North Carolina and Kay
Bushnell of California had mothers who cared about chickens.
Sharon says, "I'm a lover of chickens because my mother is.
Bringing our chickens Ethel and Merman into the house didn't upset
her. They'd jump on our laps because they simply adored human
contact." Kay's feeling for chickens grew from her mother's bond
with Tilla, a little red hen whose feet had frozen off in the cold
Canadian winter of 1918. Kay says, "My mother told me how she'd
call 'Tilla! Tilla!' and Tilla would come running on her little
Ginger and Gary Matthews of Oz Farm in Ohio had a similar
experience with their large white rooster and flock leader, Dorothy
(named after all of Belina the hen's chicks in The Wizard of Oz).
Dorothy's feet, comb, and wattles froze one January day and
eventually dropped off. They brought him inside where, Ginger
recounted, "On sunny winter days we'd open the door and the sun
would beam onto the hall floor and Dorothy would walk on his stumps
into the sun spotlight and nestle down for a nap. One early spring
morning we heard cock-a-doodle-do! It was Dorothy crowing in our
house - what a spirit. He had survived a treacherous winter and he
still felt like crowing!"
People with chickens cherish this spirited crow. Barbara
Moffit of Oklahoma says her 8 1/2 year old rooster, Ko Ko, crows in
his bedroom. "It's no problem for us - what would life be without
a rooster's crow to wake up to?"
Roosters also protect the flock. Becky Golden of Maryland
remembers how one morning after a heavy rain blew the chicken house
door shut, "Perched atop the fence sat Pepper with his two hens,
Henny and Penny, on either side of him with his wings spread over
each for protection." Recently in Maryland, Pat Lloyd watched a
rooster shelter a hen from a cat. She said, "He raised a wing and
the hen dashed under it. With his eyes on the cat they moved
sideways toward a spruce tree where, his wing still over the hen,
he made sound at the cat, who finally walked away."
People with companion chickens say such actions show their
mixture of hereditary and spontaneous intelligence at work.
Jennifer Raymond of California explains, "Certainly they have a
genetic predisposition. but they also have intelligence rarely
nurtured by humans." When it is nurtured, the results are often
surprising. Marion Cleeton of Massachusetts says, "My rooster,
Essex, let me know when he wanted sunflower seeds by crowing right
outside whatever room I was in. He knew where I was." Dorothy
English believes, "By conducting artificial intelligence tests much
is overlooked. One day my bantam cochin hen, Gwen, came clear
across the grass fussing and fussing till I asked her if she wanted
to go in the house. Together we set out. She hurried ahead of me
and hurried in when I opened the door. She needed that door opened
for her to get to her cage where she could lay her egg properly,
and she knew I could and would do it for her. That is not stupid."
Many people assume chicken are cowards. Are they? Cindy
Pollock of Arizona says, "Absolutely not. We've got to remember
they are small birds, and survival instincts tell them to run most
of the time when faced with danger. Wouldn't you, if you were 18
inches high, with no arms, and surrounded by a bunch of giant
predators?" Cindy recalls how the hen she grew up with drove cats
and dogs from her chicks, and Marion Cleston says her rooster,
Essex, will charge anyone who disturbs or frightens Elizabeth, his
People with companion chickens are struck by their mixture of
vulnerability and affection on one hand and their pride and will on
the other. Cindy Pollock tells how her bantam hen, Ferguson, would
sit for hours in her lap, trilling and clucking, and looking up at
her with bright dark shoe-button eyes. "She'd run and scold loudly
when she wasn't getting exactly what she wanted," Cindy said.
Veterinarian Holly Cheever of New York says, "When we pat
Rosie, our Rhode Island Red, she squats down and clucks to herself
and fluffs herself up in a pleased, self-important manner." People
are touched by a hen's pride in her eggs and her determination to
hatch a brood once she has a mind to. Dianna Barber says each time
her prairie chicken, Shnah, lays an egg in their New York
apartment, "Shnah offers herself for some stroking as a reward."
Davida Douglas of Missouri tells how one of her hens "obviously
knew we'd object to her setting in winter, so she hid her eggs and
set on them in the rafters. When the chicks hatched, we heard
their peeps and discovered the hen's secret."
People with chickens report a wide range of personalities.
Cindy Pollock says, "No two of my birds' personalities are alike."
Naturally sociable, chickens get along with lots of animals.
Shnah, the prairie chicken, sits on a branch next to the iguana who
doesn't seem to mind, according to Dianna Barber. Chuck, the
rooster, and Nick, the cat, nap side by side, and Charlie, the hen,
likes to pull the big dog Lucie's fur. "Lucie will follow Charlie
and nudge her to do this," Merry Caplan explains. Robin Grimm's
bantam hen, Jubilee, who hitchhikes across country with her inside
her jacket, curls up in the belly or ears of Jilleroo, the
Australian sheep dog. Robin, an artist in Alaska, says, "Jubilee
will part Jilleroo's fur and nestle in. When I call she pokes her
People relive precious moments remembering their chickens.
Davida Douglas says, "Chicken Little and Baby seemed to enjoy human
companionship as much as being with the other chickens. They'd sit
on our laps, watch TV with us, and sing along with the pump organ
or radio. Chicken Little especially loved tea time."
The death of a companion chicken brings grief to family
members who bury their chickens lovingly. Robin Grimm buried her
bantam road partner, Joy, under a pine tree in a place called
Eagle, for, Robin said, "She had the heart of an eagle." Kay
Bushnell says that her chickens "died of old age and were given a
tearful burial in flower petal-lined graves in the yard where they
had lived and enjoyed sunning themselves. We loved our chicken