Opinion Columns & Blogs

Four life lessons I learned from chickens


At least to my mind, this was an amazing story. Actually, not a “story,” but an actual and accurate report of an astonishing event. Something that I saw with my own eyes. Had I not seen it, perhaps I would not have believed it. I shall not commence with “the event.” Rather, I shall start with my connection to and history with one of God’s dullest domesticated creatures – the chicken.

Grandma and Papa had chickens – which, at that time, would have been called “yard chickens.” Later, in an attempt by restauranteurs to command exorbitant prices, called “free range chickens.”

What I learned from my grandparents’ chickens were two things. First, these fowl probably were the examples used by my grandfather – though unwittingly on his part – to introduce me to information about procreation. You know, “the facts of life.” On this subject, I was as dull as the chickens about which I write. Papa, in a limited way, explained the difference in the rooster and the hen. And, he told me that you could not have “biddies” (baby chicks to you Yankees) without roosters. Also, he smiled, ever so slightly, when I attempted to break up “fights” between rosters and hens. Slowly, I began to sense that there was something going on about which I needed to know more.

The second thing I learned from chickens was how mentally limited they really are. An example: In attempts to get out of their pens, they would constantly and continually poke their heads through the chicken wire when, if she/he would simply move over two or three feet, he/she could walk through the open gate. I could cite other examples, but suffice it to say that I learned early on that chickens didn’t have much sense. And yet, I feel these ancient yard chickens were brilliant compared to their later day cousins, the caged commercial fowl. I rest my case on my eyewitness account of what I write about below.

Let me pause to confess that my conclusion concerning the lack of mental capacity of chickens was not solely based on observation. There was also that story, which I found to be very interesting, of one of the world’s greatest pessimists, “Chicken Little.” You remember Chicken Little. An acorn fell on her head and she proclaimed “the world is coming to an end.” Chicken Little would have made an ideal modern-day television talk show host (or hostess).

The story of Chicken Little only served to strengthen my belief that my grandparents’ chickens – and, yes, all chickens – were dumb. Observations and literary reinforcement could lead me to no other conclusion.

And now, the event. Janice and I were at our then farm in south Houston County when we saw smoke billowing over the hill to the west. We investigated and determined that one of our neighbor’s chicken houses was on fire. Janice called 911, and shortly thereafter, the volunteer firemen were on the scene attempting to save the remaining chicken houses, but letting the “too far gone” chicken house and its 11,000 to 12,000 chickens “go.” But not all the chickens were trapped inside. About two dozen of the fowl miraculously escaped. Do you know what the escaping birds did? A few ran in circles dangerously close to the fire and about one-half ran back into the fire! Had I not seen it, I would not have believed it! But, it actually happened.

Our neighbor to the east, Dick Weir, was also there, and I asked him for an explanation of the suicidal conduct of the heretofore caged birds. He intoned: “Larry, this house was the only world these chickens have ever known, and they didn’t know what to do when they got outside so they ran back into the fire!”

Still, I have learned a great deal from chickens. Let’s see: 1) my first lesson in biology; 2) that when there is a slight bump in the road, it doesn’t mean that the world is coming to an end; 3) there is a larger world than my world and my views shouldn’t be limited by what I have seen and been taught; and 4) even the dull and ignorant can teach you something.

And, as I wrote above, I have concluded that Grandma and Papa’s chickens were brilliant compared to my neighbor’s caged birds.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly, and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.