HOMEGROWN Life: Potpie The Hen
I have a silly little hen named Potpie. She was my first attempt at incubating chicks in a machine. I’ve always left hatching duty to the girls. I figure they know best. Turns out, it’s true, at least in my flock.
Out of 16 eggs put in to the incubator, Potpie was the only one that hatched. Not because Gentle Ben was slacking in his duties. I chalk it up to it just not being nice to fool Mother Nature. Would you want to come in to the world inside a styrafoam box laying on a bed of hard wire? Think about it.
Potpie braved the styrofoam and wire. After she hatched, I made a small nest for her in a box which progressively got bigger as she grew. It didn’t take long til she was hoping out of the box and visiting while I was hanging around in the house taking care of things. Hunt and peck took on a whole new meaning.
Eventually, as she got to (at least in my mind) be more like a chicken, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce her to the coop. I carried her out and put her up on the perch. She had practiced on an old piece of broom closet pole in her box, so she already had a leg up. For the next 4 months, she spent all her time 4 feet off the floor, hopping around on the perches from one side of the coop to the other. She pecked at grain I’d leave for her around the edges and drink from a small waterer I placed in the corner. When I’d come in, she’d greet me, running over for me to scratch her chest, pick her up, give her a nuzzle while she cooed in my ear and and then place her back on her perch. I tried putting her down on the floor to eat, she immediately jumped back up to her perches. Every day, I thought I’d catch site of her venturing around outside with the other birds, chasing bugs, eating worms, pecking at seeds. But Potpie was completely content to stay up safe and sound on her perches.
Towards the end of the summer, I spotted Potpie in the pasture, pacing back and forth along the fence on the other side from where I was working in the garden. She had finally stepped out into the world. I opened the gate for her and for the rest of the summer, she spent her days wandering around in the garden doing what chickens do best. At night, I’d pick her up and place her on her favorite perch in one corner of the coop.
Two weeks ago, Potpie appeared at the front door of the house. She hopped up on the porch, peered in and spent the day pecking around in the front garden. She followed me around, poking in and out of the barn and introduced herself to the goat girls. Now she spends her days picking up any bits of grain they’ve left around the milking stand. At night instead of going back to the coop she hops up on to the ladder for the hay loft in the barn and settles in.
Is Potpie a nature vs. nurture thing? Does she choose to separate herself from her fellow flock members? Is this just her figuring out where the easier food is? Are we, even our animals, simply products of our environment? I’ve raised other birds in my home, kept them separate from their like kind, then introduced them to the group. But I’ve never had one that has seemed to choose to keep itself separate and find companionship (can you call it that?) closer to a human. We see examples of animals bonding, even ones that seem totally unlikely like elephants and dogs. We know of animals who lose their mates and mourn just the way humans mourn a loss of a companion. I’ll probably never know if Potpie in her little brain has any thoughts on this. Do chickens after all…think? For me, it’s just ok that she’s hanging around in her own little world, whatever or wherever that may be. And if tomorrow, I open the barn door and she runs out and joins the flock, that’s ok too.
I bought a greeting card once for a friend who had taken a job in a new city and was making a major change in her life. It read “And then, the little chicken turned and gave the old barnyard a fond and heartfelt glance, stepped gingerly through the hole in the fence, and into the adventures beyond”. Potpie’s journey may have only extended to the safety of the barn with herd members not of her kind, but I’m calling it a big adventure anyway.
I describe myself as an accidental farmer with a purpose. My farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine is a certiﬁed Maine State Dairy. I offer cheeses made with milk from my registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from my Romney cross ﬂock, goats milk soaps, lavender, woolens and whatever else strikes my fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of my belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live and to the animals with whom we share the earth.