A Chicken Parable

Farmer Brown had a nice flock of chickens she kept in a coop and their enclosed yard.  Being mindful of the wily coyote, Farmer Brown never let her flock roam freely on the beautiful grass around the barn. You might say they were always “cooped up.” The Leghorns were a fairly plain breed, mostly tan in color with little to distinguish them. The flock produced reliable eggs and that is what Farmer Brown treasured every morning.

The older birds left the coop first and always roamed in the shady spots. Farmer Brown knew they were the senior citizens, so she always threw a little extra scratch and feed in that part of the enclosure. None of the rest of the flock dared venture into the shady areas. To do so would earn instant disapprobation with squawks and furious wing-flapping. The youngest of the bunch were forced to roam the sunny areas and the dry patches where no bugs and protein snacks could be found. The middle-aged birds moved as a group from place to place mostly content with whatever they could find to eat. It was always enough, but just barely. “How did Ms. Brown know exactly how much to give us?” they wondered.

One day, Farmer Brown was reading her farm magazine and decided to order a few more chickens. “I’ll just expand the coop and add another half dozen” she thought to herself. The blessed day arrived, and Ms. Brown proudly introduced six Rhode Island Red chickens to the rest of her rather plain-looking Leghorn flock. The Rhode Island Reds were beautiful to see with red-brown feathers shimmering in the light with a little patch of white behind the eye. The rooster was magnificent with his brilliant red comb and black tail feathers.

The moment these strangers strutted into the coop, every bird became suspicious and fearful. Even though the coop was bigger than ever, they all wondered, “Where will I roam now?” and “Will the farmer still throw me extra food?” Tensions mounted. The birds didn’t eat for a few days. Egg production dropped. As one of the older Leghorns fell asleep, she thought to herself, “If one of those ugly interlopers gets too close to me, I’ll whop it.”

After several days and some nearly disastrous skirmishes, the chickens staked out their places in the coop and harmony returned to the whole flock. The farmer discovered that she had to scatter extra feed now to placate the upset Leghorns – so much that several became fat. But they were mostly content.

Then one day, Ms. Brown had to drive to town, and the coyote found a way to dig under the coop fence. The coyote grabbed one of the Rhode Island birds while the rest of the flock flew up to the hen-house rafters out of reach from a jumping coyote. When the farmer returned, she cried at the sight of the blood and the feathers and the hole dug under the fence. She knew which bird had been taken, so she decided right there to do something radical.

“I’ll let them roam freely during the day and I will close them in at night. There is more than enough for them to eat out here in the yard.” In a few weeks, the fat birds went back to normal weight. The whole flock was happier, and the farmer was very proud of her flock.

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