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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Self-Reliance and the Pecking Order

Yesterday, while Lawrence was with Bow, Sword and I introduced our new batch of chicks to last year's brood. Rufus, the rooster, exercised a remarkable restraint and showed himself to be a true gentleman. He didn't once peck at the little chicks, and if he did want them to move, he feigned an attack, but never followed through. It was as though he were thinking: "Future wives for me, better be gentle while they're yet too small." The two Long Island Red hens were not as kind, but reserved their pecking mostly for moments when the little ones were in their way at the feeders. But our other hen, a lowly red, who showed some signs of being a victim of pecking herself, was downright vicious. So we had to separate the little chicks and put them back in their own enclosure.

Isn't this often the way it is in life? Those who have success can afford to be generous, but anyone too low on the pecking order jumps at the opportunity to push someone even smaller around. "A servant when he reigneth."

And what about Bow? What role does he play in our attempts at subsistence farming? He watches from the sidelines, because self restraint is not his forte. He could learn a few things from Rufus.

When I first moved here and started Project Bow, one of my dreams was to teach Bow self reliance. I have ten acres. I had visions of teaching Bow how to milk a cow, how to plant a garden, how to pick fruit.

But without self-restraint, the agricultural life style just doesn't work. Bow would rather eat the seeds than plant them. When given access to lots of fruit, he'll eat one bite out of each and move on to the next. He never plans for the future, and what's more, he seems to look down on me for doing so.

I told a fellow primatologist once that I wanted to let Bow have an Easter chick to raise, but he would surely kill it. She said: "If I were you, I would let him. How else can he learn? If he kills one chick, get him another, and another, and another until he stops killing them."

"But that's encouraging him to kill!" I protested.

"Aya, you eat chicken!" she admonished me. (She's a vegetarian. I'm not.)

"Yes, I eat chicken, but I don't kill them for sport."

What do you think? How best to teach self-restraint? Will Bow ever grow to be a gentleman farmer?

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