Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Faith and Values: Pecking order: A bantam hen’s lesson in patience

Midge the bantam chicken is excellent at testing patience.  (Tracy Simmons/FāVS News)
Tracy Simmons FāVS News

This week, much of what I’ve learned about patience has come courtesy of my bantam chicken, Midge.

I first got hens nine years ago. Three of my original four are still with me. Like family pets, together we’ve moved from home to home, and I’ve come to appreciate each of their personality quirks.

Realizing, though, that they are now in their twilight years with limited days ahead, last summer my wife and I decided to add chicks to our flock – Midge and Jeanie.

Jeanie didn’t make it. But Midge, fast, noisy and a slave to blueberries, seems to have added a new energy to the chicken run. The old ladies are laying eggs again and enjoy chittering back and forth with the neighboring hens.

Still, they’re old.

So this summer we got two more chicks: Betty and Marsha. When they were 2 months old – awkward teenager-sized – we moved them out to the run. Midge didn’t like the newcomers and immediately attacked.

With feathers ruffled and fanned around her head, she charged at the new girls, pecking them – and wouldn’t stop.

Our little hen was a bully.

For a full week, nothing worked. We isolated her, we put lots of tasty distractions around the run, we sprayed her with water when we could tell she was going to charge, we put them all together sleepily in the coop at night – and still she would harass them.

Not only was I disappointed in Midge, I was getting impatient.

I’m writing this column from Greece, where I’m leading a study abroad trip. We timed getting the new chicks so that they would be big enough to live outside with the rest of the girls by the time I left for Europe, and it wasn’t going as planned.

I could feel myself getting anxious about it, frustrated. I didn’t want to leave my wife with a problem chicken.

But instead of getting angry, we resolved to be patient. Ven. Thubten Chodron of Sravasti Abbey says patience is the antidote to anger, and with that in mind, I found myself frequently in the chicken run (which I had built an extension onto to make room for the growing flock) talking to both Midge and the new hens, giving them treats, petting them. (Don’t worry, we wash our hands – a lot).

My wife did the same. She did it better than me, sometimes holding the chicks until they fell asleep in her safe arms. She showed the same love to Midge.

Finally, the day before I left, we had peace in the chicken run.

That lesson in patience from an unlikely teacher will stay with me as I navigate the stacks of emails and endless to-do lists that await my return. The chickens showed me that slowing down, taking a breath, and aligning myself with the team’s pace – instead of my constant rushed one – can breed more thoughtful outcomes. Taking a step back allows space for wisdom to emerge.

So here’s to Midge. Thanks to that feisty hen, I’m reminded to occasionally loosen my white-knuckle grip on perceived deadlines. A little patience can go a long way toward creating a productive, harmonious flock – be it chickens or otherwise.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a Washington State University scholarly assistant professor and the editor of FāVS News, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.