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How The Hen House Turns: Animal Bonding

on July 17, 2018 - 9:33am
Even the squirrels will stop and stare, posing nicely, if I talk sweet nothings to them. Courtesy photo
 
By CARY NEEPER
Formerly of Los Alamos
 
We have never owned a horse, but I would love to have had one, plus several to keep it company--now that I've read about them and their remarkable history with humans. What an incredible tolerance they have had for us. Why did they adapt to our demands over so many thousands of years? What in their nature allowed that, given their preference for living wild in small bands?
 
It makes me wonder how long we have domesticated chickens. Or did turkeys come first? Our two Hen House turkeys bonded to us as closely as any horse has bonded to humans, but only if we raised them, nurtured them soon after they left the egg.
 
The wonderful way Lippanzaner horses are raised is instructive. They are allowed to run free with their mothers, learning to be a horse, until they are grown up enough to exhibit their talents and their interest in the intensive training required of a show career.
 
In recent decades, animals have been given close observation. Our early assumptions have been well debunked ini a number of books I’ve been reviewing.
 
They are not mindless beasts, living biomachines. An example: We now understand why a young deer is "abandoned" by its mother so soon after birth. Doe and fawn are well bonded right after birth. Fawns are cleaned up and then carefully hidden by their mothers in dense shrubbery.
 
The mother goes away, carrying with her the afterbirth scents that might attract a predator.
 
The baby is scentless, hence safer alone until another nursing is required, then she returns and probably moves the fawn.
 
Perhaps dogs served early humans in a similar way—cleaning up after our giving birth in the days before we lived in locked houses. In those times horses probably served us in ways we haven’t yet imagined. and, like horses, dogs were rewarded for the services they performed. At least they were given our scraps or some water to drink.
 
So it has been with most domestic animals. And now, careful observation of wild animals has taught how and why they have survived over the ages. The most recent example is the interesting ways that, not only pidgeons, but crows, fixes, coyotes, raccoons, rats, mice, rabbits, deer, and turkeys are finding ways to survive, largely undetected, in human urban areas.
 
Here in California the deer and turkeys sometimes bring their young into our 40-acre campus gardens to sleep. It’s obviously a safer place than the nearby open space reserve. In Los Alamos, we noticed that the deer came in to town more often during hunting season.
 
The Hen House gang of domestic birds were happy to roam the 1/2 acre they had available, but they quickly headed for the Hen House and its own yard when threatened by hawks or storm.
 
Our domestic birds--ducks, chickens, and geese--were not wild, but they did not welcome the kind of intimate human attention that dogs and some cats do. They hated to be touched, so I promised not to handle them unless I had to administer some medical attention. Then they would settle down and let met probe their sore foot or help their chick out of the egg.
 
The neighborhood deer here act in a similar fashion when I come by with my camera. They check me out, recognize me or my blue jacket or my friendly greeting, ignore the raised camera, and go on grazing. Only the fawns will stare at first, before following Mom off into the oak trees. Tone of voice is the cue. Even the squirrels will stop and stare, posing nicely, if I talk sweet nothings to them.

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