March 26, 2012
chicken pecking horse's leg

Photo by Audrey Pavia

Mr. Mabel tempts face as he loiters dangerously close to Milagro’s hooves.

I’m not one of these people who assume chickens are stupid. I know they have that reputation, but I think they are actually pretty smart. They learn quickly, have a surprising capacity to think things out and are very good at recognizing individual people. But sometimes my chickens do things that make me understand how this species gained a reputation for being dumb.

Take yesterday, for example. I had Milagro tied to the hitching post while I was grooming him. Mr. Mabel was hanging around, as usual, begging me for food. The other chickens were loitering around too, but Mr. Mabel, as always, was in the forefront, demanding I give him something to eat.

I ignored him as I brushed out Milagro’s shedding winter coat, until I saw him getting closer and closer to Milagro’s right hind leg. I stopped what I was doing to watch what could only be described as suicidal behavior. Mr. Mabel was inching closer and closer to Milagro’s hoof.

It seems Mr. Mabel had spied something that looked edible on Milagro’s back heel. He was honed in on it, his head cocked to the side as he approached. Before I could move toward him to shoo him off, he took at peck at Milagro’s heel. At that moment, I expected to see Mr. Mabel go sailing through the air. I cringed, thinking this would probably the end of my bossy rooster.

But Milagro has mellowed in his middle age, and didn’t react at all. The horse I knew a few years ago would have sent that bird flying. But this kinder, gentler Milagro just picked up his foot reflexivly, and then set it back down.

I was stunned. I once saw Milagro plant a firm kick on the face of a loose dog that got too close to his heels out on the trail. But my horse is a smarty, and he no doubt knew this dopey rooster was not a threat, but just a mild annoyance.

Of course Mr. Mabel had no idea how close to death he had just come. He was preparing to peck at Milagro once again when I stepped in and broke up the scene. Milagro was generous the first time around, but I wasn’t sure his patience would last.

I herded Mr. Mabel off, but he soon came back around. He’d lost interest in Milagro’s heel, and was now just pecking around on the ground close by.

Milagro didn’t seem to care. Although I was nervous that my rooster was within kicking range, it seemed the two of them had some kind of understanding. I really didn’t need to intercede.

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