Lessons from the chicken coop

or, all I really need to know I learned from one dumb cluck

One of the best parts of having a small farm is watching the animals' behaviour. I get a lot of entertainment from watching our horses, pigs and chickens interact. You can also learn a lot by watching their behaviour. With that in mind, here's some lessons from the chicken coop (and one dumb cluck.)

This is the setup, so you understand what I'm talking about. My Movable Coop is a light wood frame structure covered with chicken wire. A tarp is attached to one side and covers the top. The other end of the tarp is not attached to the coop; I tie it to T-posts to form a canopy.

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I feed the chickens in the coop in the evening, and lock them away for the the night. In the morning I put feed outside and let them out. I lock the chickens out of the coop in the daytime, to help keep it clean. The attached canopy provides shade and shelter.

Most mornings when I open the door to the coop, all the birds rush out to get the feed. Generally the coop is emptied out in a few seconds. However with this latest batch of birds there's one young rooster (of course it's a guy!) that just can't seem to find the door.

While all the other birds rush out the door, he is frantically running back and forth at the chicken wire mesh, trying to get to the food. Every morning I have to go in and usher him out.

On with the lessons from the chicken coop!

Life lessons from a dumb cluck

Lesson 1: The door is always there. Here's the message: the door out of your dilemma is always there, you just might have to look at things a little different to find it. This can be difficult to do when you're rushing around (and clucking), so when faced by a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, STOP, take a breath, and take a look around. The answer is there, you may need to change your viewpoint to find it.

Lesson 2: If it's not working, STOP doing it. Despite the fact that he has NEVER been able to find a way out through the mesh, the little rooster keeps doing the same thing every morning. If you are stuck in a rut, the answer is not “do more of the same, just harder.” There is a flaw in your current reasoning or your methodology; do something different.

Lesson 3: Model Success. While it's a lot to expect abstract reasoning from a rooster, the little guy ought to realize that if the other chickens had found a successful path to the goal, all he had to do was mimic what they did i.e. model successful behaviour. If you are trying to accomplish an important task, chances are someone else has succeeded at it. Learn what they know, and do what they did.

Lesson 4: Accept help gratefully. As I said, I have to go in the coop every morning and shoo the slow learner out. Does he accept this help willingly? Not a chance; he goes reluctantly, clucking and protesting at every step, because he thinks he can SEE the path, and I am ushering him away from it. This still happens every morning, despite me always 'steering him right'.

The lesson? If someone comes along who seems to know more about the situation than you do, accept their help gratefully; if what they suggest works, repeat as necessary until you get to your goal.

Lesson 5: Take action. It does the little rooster no good to wish he had a wire cutter (and opposable thumbs ;-).and use this as an excuse not to do something. If you look around, there is a logical first step you can take towards your goal. Then take the next step. REPEAT.

Lesson 6: All change is internal. This last of these lessons from the chicken coop is the most important one. Note that in this example, all the conditions for success were present.

The rooster did not need to cut his own door, one already existed. He didn't need to carve a new path, he just had to find out what worked for others and mimic it. The barriers to his success were an illusion, it just took the right attitude to realize that.

It can be difficult to change the external world, and in fact this is not necessary. Change yourself first, and you might find the world has changed to accommodate you.

Who knew that all the answers to life's problems could be found in lessons from the chicken coop? Coming soon: the 'Lessons from the Chicken Coop' movie (kidding!)

More important life lessons at Farm Fun

How to Raise Chickens

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