Dr Airdre Grant at Classic Wallabies versus Barbarians in Lismore.
Dr Airdre Grant at Classic Wallabies versus Barbarians in Lismore. Sophie Moeller

It is important to know your place in the pecking order

I LOVE chooks, the man in front of me said in a big loud voice. We were in a line to buy tickets to see a movie called The Pecking Order.

This sweet documentary is about the 148 year old Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon club, and was on at the lovely Star Court theatre.

I and other poultry fans were paying good money to see a film about chooks. It was worth it.

The film is about the birds, the run up the National Show and the battle to be president of the club. It is artless and charming and has been a smash hit in New Zealand.

It got funding on the strict understanding it didn't mock the club and its members. And it doesn't. It follows hatchlings as they grow, are prepared for the competition and the race to gain the coveted prize - Best in Show! The dedication of the bird owners is touching.

The washing, grooming, trimming and preparation of birds for the big show is fascinating. Who knew so much hung on a well turned feather, a firm comb or a sprightly tail?

In the club, the humans jostle for position as the pecking order in the hierarchy undergoes a shakeup. It's all too human really, and very charming to observe. It made me think about the pecking orders we are all part of. In my family there was period of time when the pecking order was dominated by the family cat. Then the dog, then the children and last of all me.

I started looking and there are pecking orders everywhere.

Dominance is asserted in many ways - big car, loud voice, ostentatious displays of wealth, big office, big chair, your own special parking place.

A throne even has its own room. The person who sits on that is the big kahuna in the pecking order. I know where I sit in the pecking order (I drive a small car). I also know what happens if I try to move up a perch. People don't like it any more than chickens if someone tries to change the established pecking order.

Feathers are ruffled and there is a lot of squawking, carrying on and fussing by everyone in the pecking order community.

A woman I met informed me that When you have chickens and want to introduce a new bird to the flock, you need to apply strategy to make sure they don't get bashed upby the other birds, higher up in the pecking order. She said that

When they sleep, the top chicken takes the highest roost. in the hen house. The thing to do is go in when they are sleeping and insert the new member higher up in the roost.

When they birds awake, they accept the new pecking order. Peace is maintained. Admittedly, it's

Not so easy to slip a new member into a workplace community under the cover of darkness.

Imagine how feathers would fly if that happened!

Airdre's book Stumbling Stones, A path through Grief, Love and Loss, published by HardieGrant, is in stores and online.

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