Each and every morning, either I or my son make the short trek over to the chicken pen to let the hens out of their 4′ x 8′ coop, and into their open pen where they spend the rest of the day as “free range” chickens, grazing on insects, worms, and grass; fulfilling their instinctive need to scratch; and consuming their daily supply of small rocks and sand, which aid in the digestion of their daily food intake.
This daily event is one that, I think, we both look forward to. It is a routine chore, that’s for sure, like so many others. However, unlike the monotonous chores of sweeping the porch, unloading the dishwasher, and doing laundry, this one, I’ve discovered, is actually somewhat inspiring!
A friend told me recently about how Psalm 23 became very real to her after having the experience of raising sheep with her sons. “They really do know [our] voice”, she said, ” just as in the Psalm, the sheep know the good shepherd’s voice.” She went on to explain a few experiences to illustrate the point – like the one time, when they needed to bring the sheep in for shearing. A big, burly teenage boy (not the sheep’s shepherd) was there to help them. Try as he could, he simply could not get those sheep to come to him! However, when the sheep saw my friend’s son (their true shepherd), it immediately came over to him, snuggled up against him, and allowed him to lead it to the shearing. “They know their true shepherd”, she said. I shared with my friend that I experience something very similar with our chickens: they’re not sheep, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pretty sure that “they know me”.
Our home is oriented such that my bedroom window faces the chicken pen and coop. Every morning , when I draw back the curtains and open the shades, I am amazed to see the hens begin to focus in on the movement, peering through their chicken-wire fence and into our windows, looking for that first daily sign that they are going to be let out soon. (I have to admit that I don’t always get right to it –there are so many other things on my “to do” list for the day that can distract me!)
When I venture outside, and the hens catch a glimpse of me, it all begins. First, the chickens all gather together, keeping their eyes on me the entire time as I make my way into their pen. As I walk along the west side of the pen, they gather at the west-facing front door; as I make my way through our garden gate, and head along the northern border of the pen, they, too, move to that position in the coop, and so on. Today, upon entering the pen, I came up from the south-side to capture a picture of what this looks like. As you can see, from the top, left picture, the hens are all gathered together, looking at me (some squaking -if they’re really anxious, others cooing), eagerly waiting for me to open the door of the coop –they know me!
How do I know this? They don’t do this for just anybody. Every day I’ve seen people walking past, on the dirt road right next to their pen, and the hens just ignore them –as if they weren’t even there! But, my son can actually play hide-n-seek with them, and they like to follow him around whenever he goes inside of the pen…they “know” him!
As soon as the door is opened, they all dart out and begin the morning activity of scratching through the decaying grass and leaves and dirt in searchof pill bugs, crickets, worms, and a host of other bugs I’ve seen, but can’t identify. Their focus has now turned to the breakfast buffet that lies before them, and I slip back out the gate.
It isn’t long before they notice where I’ve gone, however, and their attention is focused back on me! They know that, once I leave them, I’m headed straight for the mounds of yellow-green pasture grass located directly outside the fence. They watch as I pluck handfulls of it (along with roots, decaying matter, dirt, and the possible insect or worm), run to the fence, and wait for me to chuck it over. Once it hits the ground, no matter where they may be in the pen, they all come dashing over to feast on the fresh, gourmet greens. (sometimes the pecking order becomes very apparent, as the head hen asserts her right to first dibs).
With the task completed, I head back inside – sometimes stopping to inspect my flower bed to see how the new transplants are coming along, and size up my weeding for the day – and think about the truth of God’s Word, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” – John 10:27 (and how it can even be said of chickens!) and how I am blessed to have this shown to me in a real, tangible way every day!