My son just read William Golding's Lord of the Flies and found its bleak view of humanity very disturbing.
I tried to suggest two things: that Golding's experiences in the British Navy during World War II probably influenced this outlook.
And two, if the only thing that keeps us from behaving like animals is the constraints of civilization…well, animals can be very noble and self-sacrificing, especially in service of their genes.
Witness the hen in the photo above. Notice the pale comb and beady eye of the fanatic.
For the last six weeks, she sits day and night on her nest, refusing to eat or drink, straining desperately to hatch out her eggs…even though those eggs are not fertile, since we don't have a rooster.
Every day, I move her up and off and collect the eggs, but she's right back in her spot a minute later. Broody hens don't lay, so she steals the other two hens' eggs to carry on this fantasy of impending motherhood.
Obviously, sitting in perpetuity on eggs that will never hatch is not good for her health. But she is so devoted to them!
Of course, I'm not surprised to learn that mothers of all kinds are devoted. Given what unbelievable pains human babies are, the fact that the species even survived before there were courts of law and jogging strollers is a sign of our innate goodness.
In hens, this fixation on motherhood seems to be a cycle dependent on a warm bottom–the kind you'd get, too, if you sat on a clutch of eggs for weeks on end. So cool air is one of the recommended treatments. I make sure to kick my hen out of the coop into the air every day. I've even tried dipping her rear end in a bucket of cold water, which is also recommended as a last resort. That not only made me feel stupid, it failed.
My country neighbor Rick has fertile eggs, and I thought about letting her hatch out two or three. I could use a few more hens to fill the larder, since this one is too obsessed to lay! The problem is, my family and I take a bunch of short trips in summer, and I don't want unsupervised chicks to be subject to the savagery of the pecking order that Amy Stewart experienced. Wait, am I back at Lord of the Flies despite myself?
Rick and I have a plan. He has a Buff Orpington rooster. My hens are Buff Orpingtons, too, a lovely, even-tempered breed, the perfect city chicken. In late August, we are going to arrange an orgy in his chicken tractor. Then we'll let all three hens hatch out chicks simultaneously in September, after the vacationing is over. And presumably, they'll be too busy with their own offspring to harass anybody else's.
Rick assures me that chicks are easy if their mothers are right there taking care of them. The mothers keep them warm, make sure they don't get into trouble, and generally behave in that noble, self-sacrificing way that mothers are famous for.