January and February are our coldest months here in coastal Virginia. Fortunately I knew ahead of time this current cold spell was coming and had prepared by adding extra insulation and wind-blocks, extra straw and bedding. Everyone had a special spot to hunker down out of the wind.
Still it was difficult for me to settle down to sleep with the nighttime temperatures dropping rather dramatically for my chickens. I reminded myself about how chickens are naturally designed to protect themselves: higher body temperature than people, fluffed out feathers to act like insulation, heads tucked conveniently under a wing. I ran through all of the biological facts, but that was not enough.
Then I remembered perhaps their greatest advantage: how they huddle together for warmth and protection.
Before they all figured out how to use their ladder to go up to their new coop for the chilly spring nights, my first young chicks would huddle down in a protected corner underneath.
The smallest would always be on the inside closest to the wood base, always in the most protected spot. The largest and strongest young chicks would always be on the outside of the huddle, holding just their heads above the others to watch for danger. They were prepared to defend each other while everyone was being sheltered by someone else.
Sometimes they would just huddle together like this to rest after a busy playtime together! Everyone seemed to have someone else’s head resting peacefully on their own neck or back while napping.
As the sun began to set, they would sing soft little bedtime songs to one another. Partly because it was soothing, and partly because it let everyone know they weren’t alone, just a close huddle of precious little lives, all sheltering one another.
Now they are grown and although they may squabble about who gets the biggest piece of melon or the largest share of the mealworms, when it comes to keeping each other safe, they put all of their differences aside, and they huddle as one true flock so everyone will make it safely through the night.
Emily, the littlest of all and most easily intimidated when there is a tasty treat up for grabs, is so well-protected, you wouldn’t know she was there between Gracie and Bessie.
When I think of them and the harsh weather, I can’t help but remember the little chicks they once were, climbing the ladder to their coop for the first time and still learning how to shelter each other in their new home. Somehow they figured it all out.
If only people could shelter each other more often like this. We can, you know…when we learn we are all just one flock and then say to one another, “Let me be your shelter.”
My Life With Gracie reminded me there are times when we must be shelter for one another.
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