Out here in western New York, Labor Day signals the return to school. School buses flash their lights through the foggy mornings; children are hustled out the door with new backpacks, uncreased paper and unused erasers.
It has been many years since the school bus stopped at the end of our driveway, but in the chicken coop there’s plenty of learning going on, and it reminds me very much of the first days of school—whether it’s for the first time ever, in a new school after a few years somewhere else, or a young chick in a pen of older hens—there’s much to learn, isn’t there?
PLAYGROUND RULES: My granddaughter tells me that recess is her favorite “class”. For a small chicken on this homestead, the playground is probably the fenced hen yard. For both small girl and small chick, entry into the “world of play” means free time exploring the outdoors. It can, however, mean making new friends, learning about bullying and cliques, and trying to figure out a “pecking order”. Established groups aren’t always welcoming to new faces.
It takes a while of hanging around the outer edges, cutting in on conversations or activities before one can be welcomed into a gang. Often first attempts are rebuffed, and it’s better to move on to another, more accepting group.
LUNCHROOM: In a school, this would be the cafeteria. For first timers, it can be an overwhelming experience, learning where to sit, how to handle the lunch line…and the noise! Sometimes it’s just easiest to grab something quickly and head back out the door. I have watched young chickens at feeders in the coop. They are pushed away from eating near the older hens, squawked and poked at when coming near special treats, and left to pick at any scraps that might have been left accidentally. The new arrival learns to “grab and go”, to eat what’s left when all the others have had their fill, or to go in familiar groups of others the same age.
NAP TIME: Sleeping or napping in a new place is tough, especially when everyone else already has a designated area. Chicks learning about roosts, often may not realize that the top spots are reserved for the leaders. It’s often much easier to nap in a corner of the coop, and then little by little begin the slow ascent up the ladder. It takes time and patience to learn that starting at the top isn’t best.
Yes, there’s certainly lots to learn out in the big world –whether it’s in a classroom or a chicken yard. The best part? The security of knowing that Mom is there—to wait for the bus, to explain how things are done, and to tuck you back under her wing when the day is done.