How many times have you asked yourself: if a grandmother-aged woman gets pecked by a hen does she let out a whoop loud enough to send birds a half mile away screeching into the air? You’ve never asked yourself that? Well, you obviously don’t live around chickens.
I do live with chickens and I am happy to say this question was answered last Sunday when our hen, Hazel, somehow wound up unseen under my mom’s lawn chair and pecked Mom a good one on her left little toe. Take it from an innocent bystander who was sitting a few feet away when the event happened – the answer to the whoop-volume question is a resounding ‘Yes!’
Mom whooped at a decibel loud enough to not only “wake the dead,” as the old saying goes, but deafen them as well. I know it deafened me. It startled me, too. I had to find a rock and give my chest a few good pounds to get my heart going again. I intended to pound something else with the rock, but Hazel had already made a B-line for the next county.
Those of you who have never been pecked by a chicken might think Mom’s reaction was a bit extreme. That’s like saying a person who was charged by a grizzly bear over reacted.
Peck survivors, of which I am one, will tell you a chicken peck to the toenail isn’t so much painful as shocking. It is a hard, direct, concentrated impact. It feels kind of weird and icky. It is bad enough when you know the peck is coming. When it is a surprise peck it triggers some type of fight or flight reaction (especially in the chicken who better take flight or its going to have a fight on its hands when the victim recovers).
My wife, Marianne, was recently the victim of a mass pecking. It was her fault. She ignored the age-old rule: Never paint your toenails a bright yellowish color, stuff your feet into a pair of sandals then wander into a chicken run. Assuming they were to be fed, the chickens mobbed her. They mistook her toenails for scratch or whatever it is chickens mistake brightly colored toenails for. They pecked without mercy.
Marianne tried to evade her attackers without stepping on any. It looked like she was performing some sort of hyper-active moon walk. She finally executed a fairly impressive long jump for a gal her age and escaped.
An ingrate by nature, Marianne did not appreciate my attempts to rescue her by distracting the chickens with laughter.
To her credit, Marianne never whooped once during the assault. Instead, she counseled our chickens against pecking her. Her counselling was as loud as it was descriptive. At one point, I thought I heard her holler “That hurts! You little…” followed by words and phrases normally associated with drunken sailors. I have since been assured under threat of termination that she does not use language of that nature so it had to be my imagination. Of course, I believe her, but I am sometimes plagued with a nagging suspicion that in her younger, wilder years she may have found herself on at least a few occasions hanging around bars down by the wharf.
As I said, I am the survivor of many a pecking. Of them all, only one ever really got my attention.
Earlier that day, I managed to puncture the top of my right hand with the assistance of a rusty nail and a board. The bleeding stopped after a while and I got down to the business of relocating chickens to a new run.
Her name is Matilda. She is a Jersey Giant. She is not too high on being handled or so I learned. I moved her sisters to the new run with no problem. They complained a bit and made a few snide comments about my character, but went along peaceably. Matilda was another matter. I picked her up and wham! She scored a beak-deep, direct hit on the cut.
Using this as a teaching moment, I immediately provided Marianne with a few new phrases and terms to use in the event she ever wandered back into the chicken run with toenails ripe for the pecking. I also had to explain to her later that the high-pitched unmanly wail I emitted was my way of warning her and everyone else on neighboring farms that a rogue chicken was on the loose.
I did not expect a thank you and I never got one.
Marianne eventually went inside the house and returned with a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a rag. She splashed some of the alcohol on my cut which reminded me of a few terms and phrases I hadn’t educated her on earlier. She put a Band-Aid over the cut and that was that.
Marianne later said she would have come to my assistance sooner, but she was too busy trying to rescue me by distracting Matilda with laughter.