I spend a lot of time in Prescott. My neighbors are few and far between, so when I get a call about an emergency, I tend to pay attention. Recently, Rebecca who lives on the next property over from me sent me an email that something terrible had happened in her chicken coop.

When I realized that she wasn’t referring to a problem of a personal nature, I put on my boots and made my way across the road. There I came upon the scene of a hennypenny holocaust.

What I found was a flock of eighteen chickens that were as mad as, well, as mad as old wet hens, as the saying goes. Despite being bantams and small ones at that, they seemed to occupy the entire pen all at once, and they were furious. Beaks and shrieks were everywhere.

The little hens appeared to be mostly naked. At least their little rear ends were. All around me, fowl fannies festooned with no more than two or three feathers apiece shook in fury, and I suppose with cold, too. I looked at Rebecca, she looked at me, and I said, “Females usually fight over sex or money. Why don’t you just start at the beginning and tell me what happened?”

She said, “Nothing happened. It was just breakfast.”

“Well,” I said, “something’s different.”

Rebecca nodded her head. “I thought they might be happier if I gave them two pans for their food. One for each side of the chicken coop. Two doors, two pans, the same food divided up for their convenience. It seemed pretty logical. ”

Rebecca continued her narrative of the morning’s events. “At any rate — two doors, two pans, two places to eat. So I divided their usual feed into two parts, and that’s when all hell broke loose. They ran from pan to pan eating as fast as they could, and when they got in each other’s way, they started pulling each other’s tail feathers out. It was awful.”

“Where was the rooster?” I asked.

“He’s still hiding behind the shovel over at the edge of the pen.”

“Smart guy,” I said.

Meanwhile, the eighteen hens had quieted somewhat, but the uneasy calm was broken from time to time when a hen found an unplucked feather in the tail of another and gave it a quick yank out.

“See that?” Rebecca asked. “They’re even drawing blood.”

I suggested that we analyze the situation for awhile, and we both ignored Rebecca’s husband’s suggestion to make preparations for a bantam-size barbecue. Rebecca and I pulled lawn chairs to the edge of the pen, poured coffee in thermal cups, and began our vigil.

“What are we watching for?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I told her, “but I bet we’ll know it when we see it.”

It didn’t take long for the facts to reveal themselves. The battling bantams continued to foray over to the two pans, each of which was out of the line of vision of the other. In other words, if the girls leaned over to feast from one pan, they simultaneously blocked their own vision of what was being consumed in the other pan and by whom, and exposed their nude nether regions to each other as they picked at the pan of their current preference.

And as soon as one chicken bent over, another would rush over, peck at her friend’s rump, and try to stop her from eating. The two would spat for a few moments, until the two combatants either tired or found a third would-be diner attempting to get a quick bite in between pluckings and pickings.

The rooster remained hidden, never presenting himself to danger or defilement. However, from time to time he would remind the ladies of his presence by cockadoodling.

At the sound of his voice, the hens would all drop their beakfuls of corn or bloodied tailfeathers, and look hope-filled at the direction of his crowing. But he never emerged. Disappointed, they would return to their carnage.

“Rebecca,” I finally said, “I have an idea.”

“Good,” she replied, “because I’m getting cold and I’ve had too much coffee.”

“I think the problem with the two pans is it divides up the food and they can’t watch each other eat. They’re each afraid somebody else is going to get more than the other.”

“Jody,” Rebecca replied. “They are chickens. They don’t reason.”

“Rebecca,” I said, “they are females. It’s a non-species specific peculiarity.”

I suggested that we get one single pan, bigger in size than the old pan, and put the same amount of food into the bottom of it, spread it around to make it look like more, and see what happened.

“Just make sure that when they lean over, they can’t see each others’ butts,” I told Rebecca.

“What do you really have there in your cup?” she asked me.

“Coffee,” I replied. “Just coffee.”

So that is ultimately what we did. Rebecca found a nice big shiny pan – just one – and we put the usual daily ration of feed into the bottom and spread it nice and even. All the hens strutted over, circled the pan, and leaned over to eat. They occasionally raised their heads and eyed each other, but since all the girls were in view of each other and nobody could be seen getting kernel kickback, illicit mash, or undue attention from the rooster, the bloodshed subsided as quickly as it began.

The hens will not be ready for any of the upcoming county fairs for which they had been bred and raised, and we are uncertain whether their fancy plumage will ever be the same after the follicle abuse it has experienced. But the girls are happy again, despite the fact that there never was a lack of food to go around, and the actual quantity of their supplies hasn’t increased with the change in its container, despite appearances.

Meanwhile, the rooster’s out of danger, at least for the moment. But he is considering going back into therapy.