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Giving chickens a bad name. August 6, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Yesterday morning, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood had been delighted to see a “Crazy for Chickens!” decal on the window of a passing car, including an outline of a happy hen. We wished we could find one for our own car, the Red Rogue, where it could join our “No Farms, No Food” and “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” stickers. Go backyard chickens!!!

We have a small flock of heritage-breed hens, who provide us with fantastic organic eggs, entertainment, high-quality fertilizer for our garden beds (their high-nitrogen poop naturally composted with the straw of their chicken yard and the shredded paper in their nest boxes), feathers for our fly-tying friends, and a ready source of appreciative and ever-hungry diners for all our past-peak produce, bread, etc., plus any leftovers we’ve had enough of, pulled weeds that are too scary to compost, spent garden plants, and so on.

Chickens are nature’s garbage disposal. And unlike actual garbage disposals, they give you delicious eggs and free fertilizer, not to mention good company. Ours not only look different—we try to choose each of our six or seven from different heritage breeds—but have their own personalities and know their own names. They also know us and our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and relate to all of us with varying degrees of affection and complacency.

Our chickens take up little space and require little in the way of care: a snug enclosure (coop) with nest boxes where they can get out of the elements and lay eggs, a chicken yard where they can wander around outside, enjoy the sunlight and fresh air, take a dust bath, revel in the feel of rain running through their feathers, forage for anything they might find, and enjoy a steady supply of fresh water and a diversity of foods, including fresh greens, an assortment of fruits and veggies, scratch grains, egglayer pellets, bread and other baked goods, pasta, rice, and milk or cheese that’s past its prime.  

We love our chickens. They’re colorful, personable, low-maintenance, and they reward us with the best eggs we or anyone we’ve given some to have ever eaten, with huge yolks like glaceed apricots and a rich, delicious flavor. So we’ve been thrilled to observe and read about the rise of the backyard chicken movement across America. In cities from Seattle, WA to Madison, WI to Pittsburgh, PA to New York, enthusiasts are raising a few (ordinances generally limit the number to between two and five) chickens and reaping the rewards. It’s one step closer to sustainability, a link to our ancestors, who couldn’t have imagined not raising chickens along with their veggies, herbs, flowers and fruits. Back to the future! Great eggs, no salmonella, no guilt over patronizing the hideous factory farms that remind us of the human “flesh farms” in “The Matrix.”

Seeing the pro-chicken decal buoyed our spirits, but our delight was short-lived. Arriving home, Silence went online to see if any e-mails required a response and saw a “This Just In” e-mail from our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call. One of the headlines was “Lower Saucon rooster repeat offender, attacks elderly woman.”

On the morning of August 5th, the rooster ran out of its yard and attacked a senior citizen as she took her morning constitutional. According to police, who cited the rooster’s owner with “violating the township ordinance of failing to keep his rooster on his property,” this was the third time the rooster had charged and injured a passerby, the other two instances occurring in May and June. In response, the rooster’s owner informed the officers that he was “aware of the attack.”

This is the kind of thing that gives chickens a bad name. Even roosters that are confined to a chicken yard are loud, disturbing the neighborhood with their early-morning cries. They are protective of their flock by nature, charging perceived intruders with beak and spurs, as the super-sharp claws on the backs of their legs are called. Their instinctive ferociousness, designed to defend their harems from predators whatever their size, is why the so-called “sport” of cockfighting came about, and their legendary fearlessness is why countries like France chose a rooster as their national emblem. Many’s the farm child who’s grown up with scarred legs from rooster attacks.

It’s insane to keep a rooster in an urban or suburban situation anyway, much less a free-roaming watchrooster. You don’t even need to keep a rooster to get eggs: Hens lay them anyway. The eggs of roosterless hens are sterile, just like the ones you buy in the store; they’re for eating, not hatching. The only possible excuse for keeping a rooster is if you want to produce your own chicks, not really an issue for city dwellers.

The owner of the attack rooster has clearly rusted out a few bolts in what passes for his brain. To allow one’s animals to attack elderly passersby, or children walking by, or anybody passing by, is criminal. Had the rooster escaped its enclosure and rushed someone once, it would still be inexcusable, though accidental. (Imagine the lawsuit if a dog had done that!) But clearly this rooster is, ahem, free-range.

The damage one owner and one bird like this can do to law-abiding, quiet, peaceful urban and suburban chicken owners is incalculable. Each time the rooster attacks, it makes the news. Not only has an unoffending neighbor been savagely attacked, but the owner’s comment is not, “Ohmigod, I’m SO sorry! I should never have tried keeping a rooster in a neighborhood setting! I’ll send it to a local farm at once, and of course I’ll pay all emergency-room fees.” Instead, what he says is “I was aware of the attack.” What a great guy! Just the kind of neighbor everyone dreams about.

What happens next is only too predictable. Next thing you know, a group of outraged citizens will demand that the township revoke any ordinances allowing chickens within city limits, or demand that an anti-chicken ordinance be instated if no laws regarding chicken-keeping are on the books. Because of one idiot, an entire city could be deprived of the delights of chicken-raising, the ability to learn useful husbandry skills, to enjoy the freshest possible eggs, and to savor the feeling of a little more self-sufficiency and control over their own food supply.

We think this is a shame, even a tragedy. Rather than banning chickens from the community, we’d like to see that stupid, uncaring bastard punished instead, and to make sure that his punishment fits his crime. We think it would be fitting to close him up, in only his underwear, in a very, very small space with his beloved rooster for a very, very long time…



1. kateshrewsday - August 6, 2011

Good to get this viewpoint: I’d love chickens but I’m waiting till I have a huge rambling house with loads of land. This is the UK: I may have a long wait. Love your take on chickens though – thanks.

Thank you, Kate! I believe the Egglu backyard chicken coop/run originated in the UK, and though they don’t house more than a few hens, you could probably tuck one into even the smallest back garden. However, I know that when space is limited, one must prioritize very carefully. Good luck to you on getting the property of your dreams!

2. pixilated2 - August 16, 2011

I have owned about 4 roosters in 3 years. Only Grayson my Blue Andelusian has escaped the stew pot. All the rest were angry, vile, schiziod types that rarely let me pass without a fight. No, can’t imagine keeping a Roo in town. Poor lady.
~ Lynda on the Farmlet

Hi Lynda! Thanks for checking in. Glad Grayson worked out for you!

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