Monday, November 19, 2012

So, how did 'chicken' become a pejorative?

Last April, we decided that the time had come to finally put-up or shut-up, and get some chickens.  We had been talking about this for at least two years, and it just felt like a good time to move ahead with things.  So, we approached a friend, Linda, who is a farmer, and asked for some guidance.  A few weeks later we went to her farm and picked-up five 'Golden Comets', which, as it turns out, are a hybrid breed expressly bred for egg-laying.  They were 'pullets', immature hens, not yet laying, but more or less approaching adult size. 

We had, in the interim, built a chicken-coop inside our two-car garage, with an exit to an outside enclosure that would allow them to be outside and still not become food for all the critters who live in the woods behind our house.  That includes some  rather vociferous coyotes, sly foxes, very wide-stripped skunks, racoons, hawks, owls and other assorted denizens who would very much appreciate having a ready source of fresh chicken.  We also have fishers, which are members of the mustelid family, i.e. wolverines, badgers, mink, martins, weasels etc. and they would be the biggest threat of all.  So, alas, our new red birds would not be 'free range', but still have lots of outside time.

After a few weeks, the first small brown egg appeared, and then, in short order, all five hens started laying and the eggs grew in size.  Now, we get five a day, almost without fail, and they are what the grocery store would call, extra-large, for the most part.  All of this is no big deal really.  Tons of folks are now raising and keeping backyard chickens, to the point where one must consider it a kind of fad.  Even in cities people have taken up keeping chickens, on  roof-tops, in backyards, wherever they can.  Zoning boards are increasingly accepting that having a few chickens doesn't mean that you have suddenly taken up farming.

The surprise in all of this, for me, was  that I never expected our russet little beauties to be who they are: intelligent, curious, expressive, playful, easily bored, willing to connect with us on a level that most reserve for pets like dogs and cats.  I just did not expect chickens to have much going in the 'personality' department.  But, I was wrong. 

When either of us gets anywhere near the outside run, they all come piling outside and over to the nearest place to where we are.  There is a constant chatter of sounds, few of which could be called 'clucking'.  Most of their varied vocabulary is comprised of tiny little 'mewing' and chortling sounds. Yes, there is a wide variety of greater calls and sounds, some of which are so surprising that it makes us laugh when a hen gets wound up and on a noisy bender.  My favorite--and I haven't figured out what its meaning is yet--is a kind of ' bok, bok, bok, bok...BEGOK!!!", repeated many times over, until she runs it out and is done.  There are also the classic, 'cluck', and even something that sounds distinctly like 'purring', which we have witnessed when they are having a really grand time during a dust-bath.

Of course, the question arises as to whether or not 'pet' chickens will end-up on the dinner table when they have finally reached the end of their careers as layers.  For us, the answer is decidedly 'no'.  As soon as we brought these sweet birds home, my wife named them, after the 'Golden Girls' from long ago on the t-v, plus 'Violet' because our granddaughter loves purple.  I told Abby that I was never going to kill an animal of ours  that has a the deal is done.   They will be 'retired', fed, stroked and admired...but no heads will roll. 

In fact, just knowing them is tweaking my sensibilities towards becoming a vegetarian....never thought I'd say that.  But, then, I never thought I would meet such amazing chickens either. 

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