Here’s another post for the backyard farming voyeurs among you:

I love my chickens — no roosters, just hens. Their antics offer perhaps the most consistently inspiring moment of my morning.

When I unlock their predator-proof coop (a beauty, if I do say so myself) every day at 6 a.m. or so, they cackle like crazy, fluttering to the ground faster than I can place their easy-access ramp. It’s a lot of fun to watch, but it’s for more than cheap thrills that I keep close tabs on them.

You may consider me obsessive, but I’m a firm believer in counting my chickens. And it’s for this reason that observing their a.m. exit is an important habit to get into.

Why? Because knowing how many cluster at any one time and place means I get to make sure that a) everyone’s acting normally, and b) they’re all present and accounted for. (BTW, Slumdog doesn't count, even with his hen outfit on.)

This is a crucial tenet of good animal husbandry, whether you’ve got 10 or 10,000 to look out for. But as you might imagine, it’s one heck of a lot easier to do when counting them can be done on two hands.

Which explains why hens reared in homey settings like mine fare far better than any you’d see at a supermarket or fast food drive-through. At the first sign of trouble, whether one of my girls is caught up in the fence or snicking with a cold, mama hen (that's me) is there to make sure she either gets treated or euthanized.

But even a backyard flock’s mama hen isn’t perfect. Case in point: Last week a cloacal prolapse led to a dead hen, and I didn’t know it had happened until after it was too late. Why? Because I’d been a lazy counter. If I’d counted in the morning, noon, and night as I know I should, the outcome might not have been any different, but by catching it earlier in the process I’d have spared her the suffering she doubtless endured.

Can you tell I feel guilty? Yeah, well, even a cozy backyard setup can’t guarantee zero suffering, any more than keeping cats and dogs indoors does. At some point, we’ll all know what it feels like. But the best owners, whether of dogs, cats, or agriculture species, have great systems in place to help minimize the suffering.

P.S. - I'm sure you've got similar stories where unnecessary suffering led to a better you. Give 'em up.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "Freedom" by David Parks