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National Chicken Month. September 1, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Chicken lovers, rejoice: it’s September, and September is National Chicken Month. Our friend Ben knows of no better time to have a few chickens in your own backyard, especially in light of the most recent salmonella scare. But I’ve already raved on about that in an earlier post, “Eggs: Grow your own” (which see). So today let’s delve into the wild and wonderful world of chickens and chicken-keeping with the Top Ten Things You Should Know about Chickens. Ready? Let’s go!

        Top Ten Things You Should Know about Chickens

1. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The egg, obviously. It contained the slight genetic alteration that made the pre-chicken a chicken. Don’t let anybody try to pull this one on you again.

2. Why did the chicken cross the road? It didn’t. Chickens are smart that way. They’ll stay in their yard or pile up in the ditch that borders it, but they won’t step into the road. That’s why you never encounter a flattened chicken, even on a country road, even if they’re wandering freely in the yards beside the road.

3. Do you need a rooster to get eggs? No. You need a rooster if you want those eggs to hatch into chicks, but not if you just want eggs to eat.

4. How many eggs does a chicken lay? That depends on the breed, how long the individual chicken lives, and whether they’re tricked into laying year-round by artificial lighting and heat or allowed to take the winters off as they would in nature. Chickens don’t start laying until they’re five or six months old, then they lay very dependably every year from about April through October, when they shut down for the cold, dark months. But once they reach the ripe old age of six, they’ll start producing fewer eggs each year. Since chickens can live to be 12 years old, that could add up to a lot of eggs! But the average estimate for a good laying breed is 800 eggs over a five-year lifespan.

5. Where did chickens come from, anyway? This question appeared to have been resolved by none other than Charles Darwin, who maintained that domestic chickens were descended from the red jungle fowl of India. But a 2008 research project at Uppsala University proved that Darwin was only half-right. Turns out, our modern-day chicken descended from a cross between the red and the grey jungle fowl, a hybrid the researchers believe was deliberately made by the first chicken-keepers.   

6. Who’s the chicken king? Our friend Ben votes for Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). But a close second is Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. Much as we love the Colonel, those “Eat Mor Chikin” cows are really something else.

7. Why is a wine named after a chicken? Rex Goliath wines are named after HRM (His Royal Majesty) Rex Goliath, a 47-pound rooster who toured with a Texas circus around 1900. Rex was billed as “The World’s Largest Rooster” and was a very popular attraction. In 2002, vintner Marty Spate named his winery after the famous fowl, explaining that “our wines are a tribute to Rex’s larger than life personality, with big, fruit-forward flavors.” The label on each bottle reproduces the circus poster immortalizing Rex, with the humorous addition of “free range,” a hot button for organic chicken fanciers.  

8. Can a chicken really live with its head cut off? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Why some moron would cut off a chicken’s (or, more typically, rooster’s) head, then decide to keep it alive through extensive effort when it didn’t die, is beyond us, but our friend Ben did turn up a subtle hint: $$$. Take the case of Mike the Headless Chicken, who lived for a year and a half back in the 1940s after his owner had cut off his head, being sustained on a mixture of milk and water administered with an eyedropper. His owner toured him around the country, displaying him with a pickled rooster head. This, however, was not Mike’s original head, which, as one website explained, had been eaten by a cat. Mike raked in $4,500 a month on tour (at 25 cents per view), probably more than a typical farmer of the time could make in a year.    

9. Why did cowardly behavior come to be called “chicken”? Our friend Ben failed to find the reason for this. Roosters are so notoriously brave, and so fearless in defending their flocks, that cockfighting became a popular sport  from the very beginning of chicken breeding; there are archaeological records of cockfighting in the Indus Valley as early as 2000 B.C., and unfortunately, the unscrupulous around the world still indulge in this brutal sport to this day. That’s why Chanticler (also Chanticleer), the rooster, became a national emblem of France, symbolizing fearlessness, not cowardice. We’ve never had roosters here at Hawk’s Haven, but have never detected the least sign of cowardice or craven behavior in any of our hens, and have read more than one account of a hen surviving a hawk attack through sheer fearlessness. If you have insights to offer on how this scurrilous connection came to be made, please share them with us.

10. Why did Chicken Little run around shouting “The sky is falling?” Our friend Ben didn’t have a clue, but discovered that it was because an apple fell on Chicken Little’s head. I guess this shows the difference between Chicken Little and Sir Isaac Newton, who after enduring the same experience went on to propose the theory of gravity. No wonder Chicken Little never received a knighthood.

And the bonus:

11. Do buffaloes have wings? Our friend Ben has failed to notice any winged buffaloes in either field or photograph. But chickens have wings, and chicken wings were sort of a waste product in the chicken industry: nobody wanted to eat them. At least, not until a brilliant entrepreneur in Buffalo, New York decided to smear them with hot sauce and call them “Buffalo Wings.” Now hot wings have taken the country by storm and command a premium price; you’ll pay a lot more for your wings than you would for a chicken breast or drumsticks, previously considered the prize meat on the bird.


1. Alan - September 1, 2010

I know my chickens are direct decendants of the velociraptor. Dare you to walk into their space with/or even better without food.

Love Rex Goliath (the wine, not the rooster- bit young to have met him…)

I have some chickens that crouch down in the grass when some overhead “threat” appears (like me with a bucket of feed) Most of the cowardly ones have been eliminated (eaten, either by the flock or by the hawks) from our flock. That “protective” behavior could be a source for the saying…?

Brain size on the Newton thing. If I throw an apple at the chickens they just eat it. Deep thoughts are not on the list.

Hey, if we can produce a functioning boneless, skinless chicken, why couldn’t we grow buffalo with wings. You don’t see them in the field because they are removed at birth to feed you. Can you imagin what a mess we would have if we left the wings on the buffalo? I wouldn’t want to run into a flock of 2300 lb flying poop machines. I’m sure they would wreak havoc on the power grid too. Those lines just wouldn’t support them. That’s why the USDA/FDA have a buffalo wing removal program. Seems to be working…

Ha!!! True, walking into the hen yard without food is not for the faint of heart. We, too, love Rex Goliath wines. As for Sir Isaac, we hope he at least ate the apple after it hit him on the head. Otherwise, what a waste. The chickens definitely have the right idea. Yikes, flying buffalo! It’s bad enough having the cow fly over the moon…

2. Jen - September 1, 2010

BAWK!! I really hope September is chicken LAYING month, Ben. Mine are 20 weeks old and no eggs yet. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not feeding them something essential or worse, that the girls are boys!

Wasn’t there a character named Miss Henny Penny? Maybe she could be chicken queen.

I must look for that chicken wine.

Hey, Jen! No worries about your chickens. They should start laying this month, and then will have the bad judgment to continue laying all winter rather than conserving their energy until spring. But after this winter, they’ll lay like mad all spring, summer, and early fall, then stop around November when the daylength lessens, rest up, and start again in April when the days lengthen out again. (I’m convinced it’s daylength and not temperature that triggers this cycle.) Your girls are so beautiful! And I’m sure their eggs will be wonderful, too. Patience!

3. anon- no mouse - September 1, 2010

Ben, Are there any recent books on urban chicken raising?

Regards, Steve

There are actually a staggering number of recent books on backyard chicken raising, Steve, and many have an urban slant. Check out “urban chicken raising” and “backyard chicken raising” on Amazon and you’ll see what I mean! I have and have enjoyed most of them, but my favorite is still “Your Chickens,” a Storey book, supposedly for 4-H-age children, but actually the perfect introduction to small-scale chicken raising. I believe the author is Gail Damerow. Check it out!

4. Cinj - September 2, 2010

I’m still waiting for Cheesehead to approve of us getting chickens. He does seem to be weakening somewhat in that regard.

LOL, Colonel Sanders as chicken King. I think I know someone who would agree with that sentiment.

Ha!!! And fingers crossed on your backyard chickens. They are the best!

5. Alan - September 2, 2010

This guy http://growingroberts.blogspot.com/2010/08/new-chickens-what-to-do-with-old-ones.html
raises urban chickens and just made a cool coop/tractor out of recycled junk. He might be able to point you at a urban chicken book.

Thanks, Alan! Everyone looking for advice about urban chicken-raising, take note!

6. mark Dietrich - September 9, 2012

wanna see fearless chickens? take a spade into the chicken yard and start turning up some dirt. worms!! be sure to wear shoes, lest you lose some toes. Mark D.

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