To me it’s the perfect scene. Sitting out in the garden on a warm spring day, children playing with their pet lambs and the chickens scratching about. Idyllic – apart from having to dodge the sheep droppings on the lawn and the fact that the chickens have given up ant hunting and are instead tucking into my plants.
Unfortunately, our hens are also in the middle of a dispute. Those who keep a small flock of chickens will understand where we get the expression “the pecking order”. Chickens cannot settle until a rank has been established. “Top chicken” and “second-in-command chicken” are my oldest veterans and, having survived a couple of traumatic encounters with the fox, have earned their places in the hierarchy. I’ve recently introduced four new point-of-lay hens. Initially, the socialising went well, but now there is bullying going on with the “bottom one” constantly getting literally and metaphorically “hen pecked”.
Trouble is, I really like Henrietta, the bottom-ranked hen, as she is friendly and inquisitive and asks to be stroked, therefore getting extra titbits. This favouritism is upsetting the pecking order, and I find myself intervening in their squabbles.
It makes me wonder why these animals are so judgmental. What factors are going through their minds when they choose who is getting the top perch in the coop?
Dare I say it’s a bit like human behaviour? We subconsciously analyse everyone we meet and decide whether we are going to enjoy their company or whether we will keep the niceties to a minimum.
I am also guilty of psychoanalysing people in Bed and Breakfast. I have two tables in the breakfast room. Every night when I lay up, I think about my guests and decide whether they will all enjoy sitting on one table, or whether they would prefer to sit separately. The aim is to be serving breakfast with the buzz of conversation in the air, as guests enjoy each other’s company. It’s just not right to have a room full of people silently eating.
It was one of those quieter mornings last week when I had an extremely embarrassing situation. The children’s most amusing toy is a “wind bag”. Sound activated, it makes a series of four different flatulence noises. Anyway, somehow it found its way behind the sofa in the breakfast room.
Cereals had been consumed, and suddenly while collecting the plates, the clanking of cutlery set off the machine. In a split second a decision had to be made. Was I to look horrified and leap behind the sofa to retrieve the source of the noise, or should I just burst into juvenile laughter and explain the joke? I searched the faces of my guests looking for signs as to what level of humour they would find acceptable.
Thankfully, to my relief, they laughed and giggling myself, I apologised and assured them I would be returning to the children in the kitchen to re-establish the pecking order.