Attention To Detail

“It is well to keep in mind that poultry-keeping is a business dealing with a large number of small things which require close observation to prevent losses. This demands patience and fondness of detail.”

from Practical Poultry-Farming by Hurd, 1939

(photo from my collection)

Close observation is what makes for a peaceful, healthy flock. You should know your chickens so well that you notice a droop in a tail, a change in flock dynamics, a different timber to a cluck. Who is sitting in the sun and who is active? Who has a few missing feathers? Pay attention and you will know when something is off, hopefully in time enough to stem the damage.

Fondness for details is what keeps the waterers clean and filled, food on hand, latches secure, the run dry, and the windows clean to let in sunlight. It’s what makes the morning chores go quickly and smoothly.

This quote could simply be advice about raising chicks, which are certainly “small things which require close observation,” but there is more meaning to it, and it is true on so many levels. The quote tells you to pay attention. Paying attention to your animals is deeply rewarding. It’s what makes having backyard chickens a joy. Paying attention requires patience; time in stillness, time to watch and to know.

The other day I sat in the corner of the big barn with my camera, trying to get a photo of a hen checking out the nesting boxes. I took pictures and I listened to the girls’ chatter, and I watched them jostle for food, peck at my boots, eye my wedding ring, and dust bathe. I watched Ruby barge past one hen and peck at another. I saw Jasper’s quickness and Opal’s meekness. I saw Florence’s intelligence and Agatha’s dim-witted sweetness. And yet, I don’t know these chickens all that well. The three Buff Orpingtons are, to be honest, boring hens, with no distinctive characteristics or character. I know none of the Gems like I know the old hens in the small barn. Eleanor, Edwina and Twinkydink are seven years old this spring. I’ve had them since they were only a few weeks old. They’ve changed over time. Although all three used to be bullies, these days they are more like doddering elderly ladies. But yesterday afternoon, after an hour of free-ranging, a Gem tried to follow Edwina back into the older hen’s barn. Edwina turned, puffed up and pecked. Quite clearly she said, “NOT your place.” It was just a glimmer of her younger self, but such was the power of Edwina’s personality that the Gem, although younger and stronger, backed off. In her heyday, the Barred Rock’s aggressive nature caused me much consternation, but yesterday it made me smile to know she still had it in her. Time. Patience. Knowing. Observation. Details. This poultry-keeping business suits me just fine.


  1. I agree…if you just pay attention, it makes having chickens so much more fun. Funny thing though…our barred rocks are boring but or Buff’s are a lot of fun. They are ‘shy’ and reserved but they are ALWAYS the first to get a worm that is dangled from above or a bug flying through the yard.

  2. It is so much joy in reading your blog and watching the hencam, like you, I love watching and learning about my hens….they are so adorable and endearing in their sweet ways about them, and thanks for all your help <3

  3. Terry, I could just picture you sitting on the floor in the corner with your camera being patient and “knowing”. Thanks for all your insight and entertainment. I know its not a business to you but a hobby you enjoy and a way of life. I love the vintage pictures. Please keep sharing.

  4. This is so sweet. I don’t know all the hens’ clucks because I have 16. But I know a few of them from a distance and I really like that. I know that three of my Barred Rocks, now 3, will get up on the highest roost at night and wait for me to lift them down. I know Clarabelle will fly out of the enclosure every morning, then scold me when she wants back in. I know Sassy has had health problems which caused her to honk. It’s much like a herd of horses. When you just sit with them and care for them every single day, you know their individuality. That, to me, is the delight of it all.

  5. What a lovely post. I love reading about all the personalities of the hens.

    Good for you, Edwina! Put that young whippersnapper in her place!

  6. Absolutely spot on, about being with the girls, learning their individual personalities, and observing. I am in only my third year of chickeneering, and I continue to be amazed by how much I still have to learn — and enjoy — about chickens, and about my girls in particular. My initial surprise and pleasure in the unfolding personalities and antics of my original peeps continues. I now wonder why I had thought living with chickens would be any less engaging and fascinating than living with cats, or even another human being. Hmmm, probably because, having had no previous experience with any kind of domestic creatures besides cats, I was thinking I would ‘have’ some chickens. Gosh, they are fun, funny, charming, exasperating, endearing, annoying. Ha! Just like the cats and the humies. Ain’t it a grand thing?

    I too am enjoying the vintage photos. I recently saw one in our local historical museum, of a pioneer woman in full black long skirt, high-collared shirt and button-up boots, out in the dusty, dirty, yard of her barren sagebrush homestead shack, surrounded by chickens. An old newspaper report told of a hen who laid an egg on another early resident’s front porch every morning.

    I love being part of this tradition, even though I am coming in a bit late and playing catch-up. Having good books and blogs (this one my absolute fave) has speeded up the learning process for me by a tremendous amount.

    Thanks, Terry!

    • I always thought that cats and chickens are alike in that you have to earn their trust. Unlike a dog who will usually trust you from the begining. As for personality, how was Buffy when you first got her ? Did she have the same personaility or was much shyer ? Maybe the 3 Buffs will just have to grow into a personality as they age. Lilith my black cat was quite shy for her first few years, but after she turned four she just blossomed into the most friendliest cat ever. Soemtimes too friendly for certain guests, not everyone wants a 14 pound fat cat in their laps…lol.

      • Kit, I’ve had dogs that have been quite suspicious (and Lily continues to be on guard against conspiracies.) Buffy has always been low-key. But, animals do grow into themselves when confident in their surroundings!

    • KathyG, those “dusty dirty” yards were the norm! Chickens free-ranged, horses trampled and only the rich had lawns.

  7. Just the other day I was thinking that chicken keepers are some of the most thoughtful and wise folks I know. I think that it certainly has something to do with having to slow down and pay attention like this.

    We recently moved our sitting bench from the patio across the yard to behind the chicken coop. It’s so nice to sit in the shade and watch the girls go about their business. Their personalities are something to behold.

    • Dan one of my favorite things to do is sit and watch the chickens.

      A couple weeks ago an appraiser came to my home for the refinance I was going through. I walked the yard with him and we came upon the “chicken patio” complete with concrete patio, table, chairs, umbrella and citronella candles. He looked at me and said, “Must spend a lot of time back here”. I said “yes, better than tv”.

      • Haha, I can just picture this exchange happening. It’s hard to explain the allure to those without their own Chicken TV.

  8. Watching the hens is humbling and informative, and sometimed downright hilarious. I have a large plant pot set on it’s side as a sort of quick shelter for the single bantam, Perpetua. The other day I saw my rooster call the big girls over to the pot. He got inside, snuggled down as if to make a nest, and chuckled at them….showing them that this is the perfect nest spot. He turned about, wagging his very long tailfeathers, creating the most darling spectacle of himself as the hens gawked and clucked and watched him with great interest..before dispersing to find grubs. How funny, but nice to know he is also watching out for the important details for his girls.

  9. There’s a lovely old English term; ‘Lookering’. A Looker was someone who had somebody else’s livestock on their land, or was paid to check a flock or herd. Lookering is what you do every day to monitor your beasts for changes and general wellbeing.

    I read in this month’s Country Living that hens only take ‘ten minutes of care a day’. I may have to write a stiff letter…

    • “Lookering” is now officially the HenCam word of the month. Love it! Makes all of my puttering seem not so time wasting.

    • They’re out in the same yard, but stay separate by choice. That is except for the Polish, who wander off into “enemy” territory, walk into fence, then don’t know how to turn around, and generally don’t know where they are…

      • Those Polish, such silly girls. This is one of my favorite parts of the day – is it Buffy and Betsy that hit the roost first in the evening? Thanks for providing such great information and entertainment!

        • My bantam White Leghorns were always the first to roost, but Buffy is feeling under the weather, so she’s there early today.

  10. I love hearing about the interesting dynamics of your flock! Thanks for the great post

  11. I loved reading this post. The details and nuances of individual chickens’ behavior and flock interaction… fascinating. The comments are all very interesting as well. Can’t wait ’til I have my own chicken tv. Thanks to all.

  12. I am still waiting for my chickens. I am all ready, coop, run, everything I need. I am in touch with the farm that breeds the Dominiques. They are a month behind as the cold weather set them back from laying. They said you can’t hurry nature and to call back in May. I am having to be patient! Meanwhile I am still sponging up everything in your blog to keep me going. Can’t wait to have my own chicks to observe. I have a little wooden seat hanging in the dry area of the run and a table and two chairs outside the run, so am ready for watching.

  13. My Buff Orpington “Pattie” is the alpha hen and is quite aggressive even towards the cats. If a cat sits in a lawn chair, Pattie will run it off so she can sit there! Quite a sight to see chickens sitting in lawn chairs on the front porch. She’s also a “screamer”. When she wants out to free range she “screams”. It can be embarrassing when company comes and Pattie is out back letting the neighborhood know that she wants out!

  14. My older Buff Orpington, Sarah, has developed arthritis in her legs. She gets lifted down from the roosts each morning. She can get up ok. She also spends more time outside laying down with the legs covered. I think keeping them warm helps them some. Once it warms up, she out and about, scratching away or dust bathing.

  15. Terry,

    I loved reading of your observations. I am new(9mos.) to chickens and I knew I would enjoy them, love them but I had no idea how MUCH. I love also the fact that they settle me down. I find myself taking the time to stop and sit with them while they dustbathe, sunbathe or scratch in the compost or woods.

    I look forward to finishing a chore so I can get together with my chickens. I call them Therapy Chickens.

    Enjoy your girls,

    Cheri in Utah