Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour.

The days in the henhouse are almost always completely predictable. The girls (when not free-ranging outside) spend a good amount of time in their chicken mansion laying, clucking and eating. The youngsters -- three juveniles (two roosters and one hen) -- hang out in the chicken run and get along great. It's every bit the bucolic country scene you think you'd see with a flock of chickens. Scratching and preening. Laying and clucking. It's lovely.

But then at around 4 pm, something goes awry. Suddenly the pecking order starts getting reinforced by both young and old. Feathers are ruffled. Feelings are hurt. Arguments ensue. I've noticed it especially with the youngsters -- everything is good until late afternoon, and then all hell breaks loose. The roosters fluff up and become offended with each other. The young pullet is offended by both the roosters. No one gets hurt or anything, but it's just a tense time and everyone seems to be at the end of their patience.

The odd thing is, the same thing used to happen to my son when he was an infant. From the time he was a month old to when he was just over a year old, 4 pm signaled what my husband and I called "The Witching Hour." Our son became restless, cranky, whiny and generally difficult. It didn't matter if he had a full belly, clean diaper and had just woken up from a nice nap --  he was miserable from about 4 - 6 pm. Those late afternoons took all the patience I had as a new mother. I got through it, but it was not easy.

Senior Centers apparently have a similar problem. They call it "sundowning." Elderly patients, especially those in memory care facilities, have a marked decrease in rationality, cognition and reasoning ability starting in late afternoon, about sundown, hence the name. Caregivers dread this time of day because it's when their charges tend to try and wander away, or irrationally argue things, or just become intractable over something reasonable, like asking someone to eat dinner or brush their hair.

So what is it about that time of day that both humans and animals seem to do badly with? Is it a drop in some crucial hormone or chemical? Is it a primeval fear of encroaching darkness, a discomfort with the dying of the light?

Whatever it is, it's definitely real, and no less prevalent in the henhouse than in the senior home. I've even noticed I have a tendency to sometimes get a little short-tempered and anxious at this time of day.

The Witching Hour. Not just for witches, apparently.


  1. funny that the witching hour and "happy hour" fill the same time slot! I think it's also that time of day we start pushing unfinished items on our list "for tomorrow". Which may feel good at the time but does plant a little seed of anxiety. Very interesting topic to mull over. Sundown syndrome is so very real in nursing homes. Speaking of which, I hope your godmother is settling in well. Also explains why evening rush hour is so so so much worse than morning.

    1. Laughed out loud with your insight about happy hour and the witching hour coinciding! And what about our parents' generation and their pre-dinner COCKTAIL HOUR? You may be onto something here....self medication, perhaps, to stave off our own witching hours lol? My godmother is settling in extremely well. She is making friends and they are keeping her engaged. She hasn't even mentioned going home! Thank you so much for asking. Hope yours is OK, too, I know her situation is more serious at this point. We'll get there soon enough....

  2. My grandparents would have "cocktail hour" every day at 5pm. Out came the gin and tonics and the bowl of peanuts. This is in CT ,which is where I'm from. If we were at the beach cottage in R.I. the grandkids would get to have Shirley Temples. Lots of fond memories .

    1. And I'm sure cocktail hour (even with Shirley Temples) enhanced everyone's mood towards the positive. I think the ritual existed for a reason...maybe we need to banish the problems of the day with some enjoyment and relaxation! Perhaps cocktail hour in the home should be resurrected.