Being Frank

Thursday April 26, 2018

Any animal that comes with the recommendation, ‘But they make great guard dogs’ is one to steer clear of in my book, especially if it’s not even a dog. Such is the case with Guinea Fowl, according to farmer relatives of mine who dropped by last weekend on a break to dry out from the valleys of South Wales.

It transpired that their eldest had decided, despite their protestations, to get himself four Guinea Fowl eggs and, for good measure, a Bantam chicken egg too. All five eggs were duly incubated together and all hatched together. If you know what you’re doing it is easy to sex a Bantam – it was a boy – but much harder to sex Guinea Fowl when they’re chicks. With that in mind, the cockerel was named Frank, while the Guinea Fowl were given the more gender neutral names of Alex, Sammy, Marilyn and, don’t ask, Wiggley. However, all the chicks were fed together. They slept together. They even played together. They were, for all intents and purposes, treated as birds-of-a-feather equals. And, as far as the cockerel was concerned, he was a Guinea Fowl.

Except, of course, he wasn’t. Frank was a Bantam chicken. 

Once big enough to relocate to the big wide outside world, they found themselves roaming the farmyard during the day but locked up safely out of the reach of the foxes at night to roost in the large chicken sheds. During that time it appeared that Frank and Wiggley had become inseparable childhood friends but at night, Guinea Fowl like to roost high up whereas chickens, technically a bird but with the flying skills of a Hoover, have to settle down for the night much closer to the ground.

But, remember,  Frank didn’t know he was a chicken. He wanted to be with his family and what our farmer friends began to notice was that this was causing no small amount of distress for Frank. He had developed a limp, perhaps from trying and failing to join his ‘siblings’ higher up in the roost, and was becoming unhappy (farmer folk know a sad chicken when they see one apparently).

Could it be that Frank was developing separation anxiety?

The family, being caring sort of farmers, set about building a series of steps to allow Frank to join his family at night. They even made the steps a little bit harder than they needed to be to ensure Frank had to think about it and work that little bit more to reach them. Desirable Difficulty they call it in education circles.

Once more able to play a full part as a member of his Guinea Fowl family, Frank is now a much happier bird, strutting his stuff round the farm and trying to impress Wiggley, despite his limp. What’s more, it turns out that Wiggley is male, but that doesn’t seem to bother Frank. It doesn’t bother Wiggley either. Nor anyone else on the farm, animal or human. And nor should it. 

Why do I share this with you? Well, in an egg shell (sorry), it is the Equality Act (2010) neatly ‘eggsplained’ (I’ll get my coat). Frank was being denied equality of opportunity ie the roosting. It was this denial of opportunity that led Frank to be unhappy. My farmer relatives identified he had specific needs that were different from the Guinea Fowl and as such adapted the environment to overcome the barriers holding him back. Once his needs had been met, he flourished and was happy.

Sometimes all it takes to get the best out of a small chicken is a little empathy, a bit of thought, some imagination and a slight modification to the environment. Find the right steps and we can help all little chickens reach their higher level. 

Simple really, if we're frank. [ITL]


Claire Birkenshaw is an Independent Thinking Associate specialising in equality and inclusion.


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