Friday, January 30, 2009

In response

to Doug Green, “What Chickens?”

Whenever I run across someone who was reared or did some rearing on a chicken farm (and there are a surprising number of such folks), their assessment of the birds inevitably runs to the negative. They declare the birds stupid, mean, dirty, and stinky. I’m sure they are speaking partly from resentment of the chores they were required to do, but they are also speaking from fact.

Fact: Take any animal (including humans) and house it in cramped quarters, keep it bored, and treat it like crap, and yes, you will end up with a stupid, mean, dirty, stinky creature. Like, duh.

Let’s start with poop. People poop doesn’t smell so great. In fact, some of it is downright puke-inducing. Light a match, turn on the fan, it still stinks to high heaven. Ditto for dog poo. And who in their right mind would take a bunch of dogs, throw ‘em in a big cage with shavings on the floor, leave ‘em there, and not expect to faint at the result?

Don’t even get me started with cats. I’ve been working with cats my whole life, love them dearly, but not only is their poo foul in the extreme, their pee is The Smell That Will Not Die. Ever.

Now, let’s address danger, shall we? No doubt, any chicken, let alone a spurred rooster, can inflict some damage. This is serious, and a responsible chicken owner will take precautions. A pet hamster can also inflict damage, so a responsible hamster owner wouldn’t stuff it in the face of a two-year-old. You don’t have to win a Nobel Prize to figure these things out. And if you’re going to own an animal, you oughta know what makes it tick. Otherwise, you have no grounds to be upset when it doesn’t behave like a cartoon.

Meanwhile, the stats on dog bites and fatalities go up and up every year. Still, there’s all that “man’s best friend” stuff. Not that I have anything against dogs (well, nothing more than their smell, their destructive tendencies, and of course, their poop). But give me a break. This is an animal that kills more than a couple people a month in the U.S. alone. When was the last time you read about someone being mauled to death by a chicken? (Okay, I admit, it would be embarrassing, and the family would probably cover it up. But still!)

Intelligence: Doug’s reference to “just birds,” demonstrates an all too common lack of familiarity with birds. I spend a lot of time with a lot of different animals and respect them all, but hands down, birds are the most interesting. They have an intelligence that transcends anything we normally expect from “pets” (and that probably extends to reptiles as well, though my experience there is limited to a few lizards and a box turtle—who has more soul in her eyes than most of the educational administrators I encounter).

Oh, I forgot to mention barking/crowing. So roosters are loud? Try a dog that doesn’t stop the entire time its owner is at work or out on a date. At least a rooster has hours. And if you keep them inside at night, it’s no biggie.

The problem, I think, arises when we expect our animal friends to conform to the cardboard picture book we grew up with. Fluffy the Kitten will hiss and pee on things from time to time; Sammy the Dog will eat your favorite shoes . . . and the bread cooling on the counter . . . and the expensive chocolate truffles your significant other got you for your birthday; Chicken Little—or any bird—will disappoint you on occasion. Not because she’s stupid or mean or demonically possessed, but because she’s fallible. As are we all. And thank goodness for it.


cityslipper (small kitchen garden) said...

I very much enjoyed the content and tone of your post. It goes for any domesticated critter, people included: if you treat them well, they're surprisingly accommodating, but there is usually some damage as a result of warehousing.

TC said...

I wouldn't want to get in a debate with you about pesky house starlings. Or any other member of the Aves family. I can't say I agreed with all of your assault, but the passion with which you expressed it is quite admirable.

Not-So-Normal-Mom said...

When I was a young girl, my dad was in the Navy and out on WestPac. My mom was cleaning the rabbit's cage and she accidentally wet the belly of our male rabbit. Fearing that he would get cold, she decided to dry his belly with a towel. While she was doing this, he bit down on her wrist, and she, reflexively, pulled back, alarmed. As a result, she had what looked like a self-inflicted slash in her wrist. When she went to the Navy hospital emergency room, they assumed that she was so distraught over my father's absence that she attempted to take her own life and wanted to keep her under observation.

Stupid rabbit. ;-)

Julie said...

I like your defense of the chicken personality--the difference between free-rang and confined chickens is remarkable. When our birds have been kept in the coop in bad weather they get cranky. They're not the smartest of creatures, true, but they have their charms.

And watching chickens eating leftover spaghetti is quality (and cheap) entertainment.

Sinclair said...

The Great Chicken Debate of 2009 is proving to me to be a topic of interest. I just found your blog, and I will be adding you to my list of followed blogs. I think you are right on. Chickens can be a very valuable animal to have, and while I love my dog, I can't eat it. Ergo, my chickens are more valuable to me than my dog. When we get down to the real basics of living, and in this economy that is just what many (we) are doing, FOOD and shelter are the most basic. Chickens provide food. And entertainment. And a reminder of our simple human roots. And humility. And they are not dumb. We have established ourselves at the top of the pecking order after a few challenges from Big Mama, and she remembers it just fine.

d.a. said...

Well put, and I'll send folks over to this entry when they get snarky about chickens. Thank you!