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.