I love watching the pigs and chickens eating – their styles are so different. Right now both groups are getting bread with their morning scraps. The pigs sort and prioritize, though they are not the types to save dessert for the end, exactly. Although things are a bit frantic before breakfast actually gets in front of them (do NOT stand in the way of a pig and it’s bowl – they do not consider themselves responsible for any damage inflicted on their way to the food), once the food is in front of them, and they have established boundaries on personal eating space, they settle down to eat very industriously, because the first one finished is entitled by pig etiquette to go round and help any slower eaters finish their breakfasts. The chickens on the other hand operate on the basis that there will never be enough scraps for everyone, also that every hen with a scrap obviously has something better. Therefore hens are compelled to go for whatever is in front of them, and then drop it when they see another hen with something, to give chase.
This morning, I had torn up the chickens bread into small pieces and thrown it into the run before I let the hens out. It’s a bit like watching kids at one of those town sponsored easter egg hunts, where they drop the ribbon and the kids dash to grab all the eggs they’ve spotted while waiting – cutthroat. The chickens pour out of their house, and grab the first chunk of bread they see. And then they have to run for it, because of course, 55 other hens are likely to give chase. The problem then becomes what to do next. Put it down so she can peck at it to eat it? Surely another hen will come along and swipe it. Finding a good hiding spot is paramount. The hens scatter everywhere, heading for bushes and brambles, tall clumps of grass, anything to hide them for a few seconds of frantic eating. Since they’re all doing the same thing, they aren’t very successful. Many run around for several minutes with their piece of bread gripped firmly in their beaks, unable to enjoy it, unable to eat it. Just owning it.
The pigs and the hens both spend their days foraging for wild, natural food – bugs, grubs, roots, leaves, etc. Both are fed commercial feed by us; the hens have free access to theirs, while the pigs get fed twice a day, commercial feed morning and night, scraps with the breakfast meal. Despite their reputation for greed, well understood when you witness the rush for the bowl – once that initial moment of panic is over, meals are fairly peaceful. The eating pace is brisk but steady. Neither pig seems to see the need to go and hide a special treat or eat it out of sight of the other. With normal veggie and fruit scraps, the chickens behaviour is less desperate – it’s not uncommon to see two chickens working on one apple core, for example.
Interestingly, in their daily foraging, both species operate somewhat similarly. They root or scratch or explore in more or less companionship. The pecking order in both species seems to kick in with regard to particularly good morsels, but other than that, the day is fairly calm as the creatures work together, or wander separately, relax with a dust or mud bath, or go and snooze in the shade. There might be the odd spat over personal space occasionally, and the pigs in particular have moments of playfulness, but generally speaking, peacefulness prevails.
So what’s with the bread? Is it because it comes to them rarely? Does it actually taste better to chickens? Is just that it’s a change from same old same old? French white (today’s offering) certainly isn’t better nutritionally than what they forage for (greens, insects, etc), their pellet feed, veggie peelings (normal scraps offering) or even chicken scratch, which is usually a mix of corn, oats and barley. If their main food group on a daily basis was a French loaf or two, they’d be very unhealthy and unhappy chickens.
It struck me this morning, watching a frantic hen dashing around futilely with her piece of bread, that people are far too much like this. Convinced that the Joneses have it better. Dropping what we already have to grab for what we think is better. Or perhaps worse, hoarding what we have, unable to feel secure enough to let go, and at the same time, unable to enjoy what we worked hard to get. Were we perhaps designed to spend our days foraging in companionship, rather than competing for scraps of bread?
Bread falling from the sky? When they first began their exile in the desert, the Israelites were pretty happy to have manna drop into their laps every morning. But after forty years of it, long enough for the generation who had done the escaping to the desert had died, and the generation who grew up knowing nothing else but exile to predominate, disgruntlement and dissatisfaction set in. They even believed that their parents probably had a better life back in slavery in Egypt, building pyramids.
Maybe I’m stretching a tad too far here, mixing bible with barnyard. But tell me you’ve never felt like a chicken with a scrap of bread – no time to put it down to enjoy it, worried it will get taken from you, convinced that everyone around you has something better. Tell me that you’ve never been like the Israelites with their manna, developing a sense of entitlement to your daily blessings, so that you have come to take for granted what is good in your life. I know I spend a great too deal too much of my life worrying about bread and not nearly enough of my day enjoying the plenty in my life.