Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chicken Love

Anyone who raises backyard chickens loves them. They become your pets and part of your family. Chickens are like dogs or cats; each has a personality with her own favorite pastimes, food preferences, and even her own distinct voice. I can always tell when Bossy, the Barred Rock, has laid an egg because of her authoritative and boisterous calls or when Ochocinco, the Iowa Blue, has wondered off from the group by her sharp bark of a yelp. I love our chickens and so does my husband, albeit against his will.

I am grateful for the delicious eggs our four hens supply, but also for the entertainment and relaxation they provide. I cannot explain how peaceful it is to sit in the backyard and watch our little flock scratching around for bugs and tasty bits of grass and leaves. It has been an amazing journey learning about their behaviors and seeing them in action. I look forward to my morning trip out to the coop with a little treat to say good morning and wish them all a good day. I love being able to open the egg door and see who has laid eggs that day (yes, we can tell which egg belongs to which hen). I try to always make sure I tell them they did a good job and say thank you. Yes, I say all of these things out loud.

In Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole, a combination of memoir and cookbook, I stumbled upon this interesting, but not surprising (to me) piece of information:

          Research has shown that chickens are quite intelligent. Their neuron
          organization is highly structured. They have the capacity for
          self-control as well as the ability to anticipate the future based on past
          experiences. […] This ability may increase their chances of survival,
          but it also means they may be capable of such human emotions as worry
          and stress. Researchers are hoping their studies will not only aid the
          scientific community but also lead to more humane treatment of chickens.

My chickens have the good fortune of living in the lap of luxury with daily treats, a coop that's cleaned multiple times a week, fresh water and food, time to roam and forage, space to stand and walk and stretch, and people who care about their safety and happiness. Not every chicken is so lucky. Yes, I've dragged out a soap box and I sure am standing on it. I've been in situations where I was surrounded by negative, stressed out people. Those situations made me cranky, stressed out and unhappy. A chicken who is crammed in a cage or in a room with thousands of other chickens who can all feel worry and stress is not going to be happy.

If anything, what I've learned about chickens is that happy chickens lay eggs. Lots of eggs. I have hens who are supposed to be moderate egg producers and who lay eggs nearly every day of the week. My buff Brahma, who supposedly should lay an average of three to four eggs a week, lays an average of six. Next time you're buying eggs and chicken breasts think about where and how they were produced. There are organic and humane practices that are not only right, but are going to produce a better tasting, more nutritious product. Isn't it funny that the better the chicken is treated, the better it is for you? Interesting.

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