Chicken Hugs: What Becomes of a Childhood Fascination with Dinosaurs

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Cinnamon and her morning chicken hug out in the pasture.

As a kid, I was fascinated with dinosaurs.  I had a big poster about them in my room, I had realistic looking toy ones, and I had books on dinosaurs.  During recess, my friends and I would play make believe dinosaur games, racing around as velociraptors.  One of my best friends wanted to be an archaeologist, to go dig up dinosaur fossils in remote places.

He’s in medical residency now, and I may be the only one from the playground crew who gets to handle real (modern day) dinosaurs each day.

If you’ve ever wondered how dinosaurs moved, watch turkeys.  Their strutting legs, long knobby necks, peering eyes.  They bob heads back and forth as they stalk their grasshopper prey in the tall grass.  If turkeys were as big as Steve’s Prius, I’d have a serious problem! 

I already have a problem each evening when I try to collect the eggs from my turkey hens.  The ladies have decided that the best place to lay their eggs is under their summer trailer house.  This has the advantage of foiling the thieving ravens, but it’s not the easiest place for me to reach them either.  First, I must convince the five or six hissing turkeys to leave the egg pile and go into their house, so the nighttime predators don’t find them, and then I must retrieve the eggs.  This week Kara bought me long-handled grippers with a trigger on one end, which has spared me the army crawl “grab and retreat” procedure that was my previous recourse.

But even though turkeys are the most dinosaur-like bird on the farm, they are not the most social for human interaction.  A turkey would rather be left to her own daily agenda, thank you very much.  Please leave the food and water over there and go away.

Ducks are certainly less ferocious than turkeys, but they have a habit of anxiety attacks.  While a goose will take the issue head-on, a domestic duck is much more likely to run in the opposite direction at the slightest provocation — possibly running into or over the top of something in the process.  When I have a loose duck that I need to catch and return to the pen, her little heart is beating so fast I fear she might pop!

So yes, ducks are forever comical with their water splashing antics and little dances, but they don’t really want to be terribly social either.  Time to move onto the chickens.

If you’ve had chickens in your life, then you know this already, but to some it comes as a surprise that chickens have very individual personalities.  I had a hen once that lived to be nine years old named Butter who could stare down a rooster!  Nobody messed with Butter, and she never had a feather askew. 

Then there’s Grumpy, the feather-footed Light Brahma who has extra skin over her eyes that gives her a frumpy face.  She can’t always see you coming either, so I can scoop up her massiveness and give her a surprise hug — which she never appreciates.  She lets me know it too, wriggling and complaining.  But hey, she’s Grumpy, so why wouldn’t she be upset?

My favorite currently is Cinnamon, who decided she likes chin rubs and a chicken hug in the morning.  We have a little routine when I open her hen mobile built on a hay wagon in the morning.  She struts over, one of the first to be ready for the day, demanding some attention.  At least most days she wants some — some days the clover is more interesting than a hug.  She is, after all, a tiny version of a dinosaur.

I saw an article this spring by the Audubon Society, telling of which types of early birds survived the massive extinction caused by the fateful asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.  It was not Archaeopteris or any other type of tree-dwelling bird because all trees were wiped out in the planet-wide burning and sulfur rain that ensued.  No, it was a humble, small ground bird that looks rather like a guinea hen and had the adaptability of being able to eat seeds and insects as well as plants.  And it had a developed beak and no teeth — which is why all birds since have no teeth (unlike Archaeopteris).

Essentially, birds not too unlike Cinnamon became today’s legacy of the dinosaurs, and I get to hug one each morning during chores with a big smile!  I think that Cinnamon would smile too, if she could.

We have a few of our “celebrity” chickens at Farmstead Creamery you can meet — one of each of five different heritage breeds including Speckled Sussex, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, Araucana, and Tetra Red along with “Mr. Handsome” their rooster friend.  It’s part of helping folks learn about the animals we raise and the beauty and need for the biodiversity of heritage breeds (instead of all white chickens trapped in cages). 

Once temperatures drop too cold for this small celebrity crew to stay warm together, they’ll return to the rest of their friends in our laying flock, but until then you can stop by with the grandkids and ask them what type of dinosaurs we’re raising and see what kind of stories they can imagine about our feathered friends.  See you down on the farm sometime.


Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453.You can read all of Laura’s Mother Earth News blogs here.

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