Instinctive Behavior

When we open the portable net fencing to move our poultry to fresh pasture, turkeys move across the field in a terrestrial murmuration, whereas the chickens scatter, every hen for herself. Same pasture, same fencing, similar feed, same waterer, similar shelters, very different behaviors. The turkeys seem to have a collective brain, the chickens are still looking for theirs. It’s time for us to act like a flock of turkeys, not a bunch of chickens.

To put a finer point on it, heritage breed turkeys, like our Naragansetts, know each individual’s life depends on all the others in the group. Their herd mentality makes them a collective force to reckon with, while one alone is quite vulnerable. As they go about their day, if one detects danger and emits a sharp, shrill chirp, all the others instinctively immediately raise their heads and hold dead stock-still. As a flock, they are looking 360 degrees. If any one confirms there is a potential problem, it will send a similar sound, and they will all run under the shelter in a semi-organized fashion. Instinctively, they are looking out for each other.

Chickens, on the other hand, scatter even when a feed sack blows in the wind. They do still have enough instinct to run under the shelter when a plane flies over. They’re thinking it is a raptor, although the turkeys have figured out raptors don’t fly like that. The laying hens act with a little more instinct, though they also act a little like they don’t like each other; but their eggs sure are good, so we take special care of them. 

I’ve noticed that there is nothing like a global pandemic descending upon us in a digital age to challenge our behavior and our ability as humans to override instinct. Are we turkeys or chickens? Each of us knows that our individual decisions have an impact on the rest of us, all the while knowing we depend on one another. As the collective, we have looked the other way for decades as sharp, shrill chirps of scientific data point to the poisoning of our planet and the air we breathe. The chirps could not be more poignant as the potential harm of a novel coronavirus settles in among us.

In 1942, as allied troops were beginning to turn the tide of WWII, Sir Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I believe that it is our turn to be the next Greatest Generation, although we best be getting our heads together, scan the horizon, and make a collective decision on where we go from here. 

Here’s my sharp, shrill chirp: The earth’s climate is in peril—some would say on fire. It’s time to get our heads up and see that all 360 degrees of science point to danger if we stay on this path. Much of what is driving climate change relates to our food system. My instincts tell me that as we eat and support the production of regeneratively raised food, we are doing our part to stem the tide. 

As for the global pandemic, I instinctively believe we are at the end of the beginning and should settle in for the long haul. Now is the time to source responsibly raised food and enjoy the art of preparing meals, as we are encouraged to do. On the plus side, physical distancing is doing its part to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of working from home and limited air/auto travel can be seen from the International Space Station.  

Some of us are behaving like turkeys, others more like chickens. How we behave for the next couple of years will determine our individual health, the health of future generations, and the health of Mother Nature herself. My instinct is with the turkeys. How about yours? Bon Appetit! —Mac Stone

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