I’m just a big city gal who was always totally unfamiliar with any animals that aren’t common house pets. At the petting zoo, I had a visceral fear that the goats and sheep were going to eat my fingers. Because I was a good little animal-loving child, I held my hand out flat and let them lick those green pellet things from my palm, but Jesus, I was terrified, and glad when it was over.
After a little while in Australia, we got two chickens. That’s pretty common here – a lot of families keep laying hens, and it’s not considered unusual, unlike back home for anyone who didn't grow up in Guatemala or on a farm. Anyone, one day they got out and ran away when we were on a day trip. We Chicken CSI’ed the backyard and surrounding laneway, but realized, when their scratch tracks came to an abrupt end, that they had been abducted on the street, I suspect by one of our more ethnic neighbors (and I mean ethnic in a 1950’s way that includes Italians and Greeks).
We were sad. We got three more hens, who were much less agreeable and friendly than the first two, but they’ve still been great teachers. There’s some fucked up shit I’ve learned from watching these animals that are at once so close, in food and popular culture, to our daily lives, and yet physically so far removed. We discuss in list form like so.
I. Chickens are brave little badasses. I.hear people worry about cats eating chickens. Chickens will attack a cat without hesiatation. Chickens will also attack a dog. Chickens will also attack my feet, despite the fact that they are at the bottom of an animal about fifty times bigger, heavier, and stronger than them, and that also brings them food. To call someone ‘chicken’ for being cowardly is weird. Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken? No. No they have not.
II. Chickens are extremely competitive, but also have a bizarre herd mentality. They will knock each other out of the way of food, chase each other around the yard for a scrap of bread, and will snatch something right out of the another’s beak. Yet, when one of them starts to drink water, they all go and drink water. One decides to spread out their wings and sunbathe, and they all start doing it. They take dustbaths together, scratch together, walk around the garden together, and generally get along spendidly. For this reason, I think that the chicken would be an excellent mascot for the Tea Party Movement.
III. Chickens can be fucking assholes. Actually, it shows a highish level of intelligence, since to be an asshole requires a knowledge of another animal’s independent thought and intention, and subsequent decision to betray that knowledge and go and be a fucking asshole anyway. I think I read that in National Geographic.
Anyway, I let the chickens out every morning, when I water and do gardeny things, to scratch around the fruit trees or eat grass or peck at random stuff, as they are wont to do. We have raised garden beds, and without a doubt, the chickens know they are NOT supposed to scratch in them during their outside time. They know this, because when they do it, we get mad and put them back in their pen. After play time is over, it is commonly difficult to get them back in their pens. I have to bribe them with some other food, or else they’ll just outrun me and split up so I can’t herd them in.
Except when they decide to go into the garden bed. As soon as I catch them and run up and wave them out, they all file very quickly back into the pen, because they know that they’ve been bad, and that they’re being punished.
But do they still do it? Oh yeah, at least once a week. Know why? Because they’re assholes.
IV. Despite aforementioned assholeness, keeping chickens is great. I love dogs and cats and things that are fluffy and show actual affection towards me. My chickens don’t do that. But they do MAKE FOOD FOR ME. Plus, they’re really amusing to watch. Plus, unlike dogs and cats, they’re cheap and easy to take care of. Plus, they MAKE FOOD FOR ME. So I’m putting the backyard chicken as a pet right up there at top with the ultimate best pets. Cat, dog, chicken. The perfect triad of companion animal domestication.
V. Chickens often make a noise similar the one Marge Simpson makes when she disapproves of something. MMMMMmmmmmmr….
VI. SOME chickens are not assholes. This I have to say, because everyone but me seems to have wonderful stories about chickens who came up and sat in your lap and read you bedtime stories and helped you come off heroin. I don’t know where these chickens come from.
VII. Chickens eat food in a preference that is very similar to the American diet. Their top choice is meat, fats, cheese, and other animal products, including their own cooked eggs. Then comes grains and cereals. At the bottom is fruits and vegetables, and even then they prefer cooked vegetables over raw.
VIII. The eggs you buy in the store are shit. They are weird, and not natural. They don’t look right. They certainly don’t taste right. They’re pretty much a perfect example of everything wrong in our consumer culture – sucking a product out of a suffering producer on a ridiculously abusive scale, then selling the inferior, shlocky product to consumers who don’t know any better and learn to consider the simulacrum the original and the natural. Fucking hell, dude. I need to listen to some RATM.