How the Hen House Turns: The Human Factor (One)

How the Hen House Turns
The Human Factor (One)
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

I have worried about leaving Gwendolyn, the chicken I raised in the house during a spring too cold for hen-less chicks. (No one in the Hen House gang had set. Domestic birds don’t take chicks if they haven’t set eggs the required three or four full weeks.)

Gwen, I thought, was a normal adult, independent hen until she lost her “littermate” Americia. Then she began to come to me when I sat on the bench by the stock tank. She would tuck her head under my arm and stay there. She stayed quiet, snuggled against me, for a half hour. I got restless before she did.

Neurotic behavior? At least unusual, but imprinting is powerful. How could I ever leave her? Enter the Human Factor.

Now with the dogs Scooter and DeeDee, I have had no worries. They did just fine with the dog sitters, when we went off on trips. They love humans. Even the USPS person ─ the ones with biscuits.

Gwenodolyn the hen. Courtesy photo

But an imprinted chicken? Last week, while daughter Tasha and I were sitting on the yard bench, Gwen walked over Tasha’s lap to get to me and tuck her head under my arm. She distinguished me, the person who raised her in the house, the person who moved the chicken wire cage from kitchen to living room to office and back again because the chicks were peeping their heads off, for me—Mother Hen Cary.

Now I know I wasn’t so special—it’s just that the Human Factor was manifesting itself. I believe there is a quality we humans have that can earn an animal’s trust. Hence we have special relationships with dogs (now, even foxes) and have been able to “domesticate” some animals.

While we were in Colorado last week, a new friend and her young children took care of the Hen House gang. When they let the birds out in the yard and sat down on the bench, Gwen hopped up and tucked her head under my friend’s arm, even though she wasn’t me Ego aside, I was delighted, for soon my friend will adopt the Hen House gang.

Will they miss me? Apparently not. The birds will trust that the new human will take care of them. They will make sure, by honking and quacking when they see some human come out into the yard. Humans bring food and water, after all, even honeydew melon rinds—and something hard to define I’ll call the Human Factor.