My hen is aggressive, audacious, curious, sociable, and baffling.

Stories from the farm.
Feb. 26 2007 1:31 PM

Henrietta, Chicken of Mystery

My hen is aggressive, audacious, curious, sociable, and baffling.

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None of the farmers hereabouts, wise to the ways of poultry, had seen anything like it. One neighbor came by, watched, spat on the ground and said, "You've got yourself an interesting chicken there."

The barnyard residents seem quite unruffled by Henrietta, though. She bounds onto the donkeys' and sheep's backs, pecks a bit at their coats and fleece, then rides along imperturbably. Except for the humans, everyone seems quite blasé about it.

Henrietta and Mother. Click image to expand.
Henrietta and Mother
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Most striking is the … let's call it a relationship that's developed between Henrietta and the barn cat. Every evening, I bring out a can of cat food, and Mother appears mysteriously, from somewhere in the upper reaches of my vast dairy barn, for her supper. But one recent night, Henrietta came zooming over from the chicken roost, chased Mother from her bowl, and then, flapping her wings and squawking, drove her right out of the barn.

I was astonished when Henrietta proceeded to eat all of Mother's Fancy Feast, while the cat returned to complain loudly from a rafter. Given Mother's kill count of rodents and birds, I was astonished that Henrietta was alive at all. Now this pair interacts all the time. Mother hides in the barn, then pops down to startle Henrietta, who gives chase. Henrietta sometimes stages ambushes from atop a donkey, waiting for Mother to pass by in pursuit of some hapless mole, then swooping down.

It looks like they're playing hide-and-seek or tag. My neighbors had never seen a cat run from a chicken; now they have. On the other hand, some nights Mother sleeps right next to Henrietta on a shelf in the barn. Though it appears they're having fun, I know better than to anthropomorphize. They could well be at war. I'm not always sure there's a difference, or that I'd recognize it if there is.

Nor can I really say what gives Henrietta such sass. Partly breeding, I think—her father's Churchillian courage getting passed along. Partly, Annie's tender care early on. If you give animals little reason to fight, compete, or cower, I've found, they often don't.

But who really knows? Some things simply can't be accounted for by human perception. Often, the best part of living on a farm is the mystery.

Jon Katz’s latest book, Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die, was published by Random House last October. You can visit him at www.bedlamfarm.com and http://www.facebook.com/BedlamFarm or email him at jon@bedlamfarm.com.

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