• Jasmine J. Fischer

A Brief History of (Our) Chickens, Part One

*just for laughs*

Chickens are highly underrated creatures.

With the intellectual capacity of a small- to medium-sized rock and the emotional complexity of a Star Wars porg, chickens have the unique ability to approach every day with the intensity of Pension Thursday.

To all this, and much more, I was blind for most of my childhood. We had chickens when I was younger, but given the fox-to-chicken ratio of our small acreage, it was always wise not to name them.

As an adult living in suburbia, I was far removed from such harsh necessities of life. When my husband and I offered to house-sit for my parents, who were moving inter-state for an extended period, we were quickly introduced to the joys of owning chickens as pets, who we called “boks” after the passionate but sadly limited “bok bok” noise they use to communicate with the rest of the world.

Martha has just discovered that June's widely acclaimed choc chip biscuits actually come from a packet mix.

There were originally four chickens in the coop: two near-identical Rhode Island Reds, who were colloquially and affectionately called the fat ones due to their ample girth and lack of other distinguishing features. There was also the scrawny White Leghorn Scofield and the sassy ISA Brown Sucre (so-named for the iconic cell mates on the TV series Prison Break, which we were binge-watching at the time).

A dark and still early morning saw the flock tragically reduced from four to two. We’ll never know why the fat ones were not chosen for supper by the sage foxes of Lake Macquarie, but the fates had spoken.

Scofield and Sucre were, like the acclaimed series of Prison Break itself, no more.

"How about them biscuits, though?"

After the fat ones had recovered from their catatonic states, we sought to increase the flock from two to five. The fat ones were joined by Ginger (a fearless ISA Brown, named for the protagonist from Chicken Run), Black Beauty (a plump Australorp cross New Hampshire), and Scofield II (a curiously vacant White Leghorn cross New Hampshire).

About the same time, we discovered a permanent white feather on the back of one of the fat ones. As we were watching the acclaimed TV series Into the West at the time, it seemed appropriate that Fat One would be White Feather, and the chicken sans white feather (affectionately termed Fat Two) would become Loved by the Buffalo, because, reasons.

These new names quickly proved onerous and in time, we reverted back to Fat One and Fat Two. Luckily for us, the distinguishing white feather remained.

Immediately, Ginger’s lack of an amygdala (or fear centre) became obvious, and approximately thirteen subsequent break-outs solidified a reputation as formidable as her cinematic namesake.

Scofield II, a chicken so blindingly white that she could easily star in Napisan commercials, appeared to have a special talent of standing on one foot. Whether eating, engaging in casual verbal banter with her coop-mates, or merely pondering the vicissitudes of life, Scofield II did everything while standing on one foot.

Black Beauty, with no special talents but a formidable body weight, was quickly accepted into the feathery fold by the fat ones.

Ginger and Scofield II were not so lucky. After weeks of segregation and separate feeding, the chickens were finally combined into one community, but tensions remained high.

These only escalated with the introduction of a large wooden box that was temporarily left in the chickens’ enclosure while we were cleaning out their nesting boxes.

If you have never kept chickens, know that chickens love height. Height = power. Power = food. Food = eggs. Eggs = status.

It’s the chicken circle of life.

Well, my husband and I completely underestimated the effect that introducing said box would have on their competitive little brains.

The box quickly became the site of Western-film-style standoffs, where one chicken would “face-off” against another challenger who had dared to claim the territory of the box. This staring contest would then result in a) the losing chicken abandoning the box for lower ground and b) the winning chicken standing tall, proclaiming to the rest of the chickens that she was queen of the box.

Following this, a new challenger would arise, and then the whole cycle would repeat.

After Boxgate, the chickens turned their collective attention to simultaneously saving the environment and cultivating an attitude of pessimism: that is, ensuring that it was always greener on the other side of the fence.

Those who have never owned chickens as pets are oddly unaware of the unique qualities embodied by these teapot-shaped avians.

For example, chickens discovered far ahead of Louis Litt (of Suits pedigree) that there is no greater healing tonic than a good mudding. Except that for chicken-kind, it is more of a dirting, since chickens dislike the part where the soil is combined with water.

Despite being whiter than the magnesium strip we burnt in Year 9 Science class, Scofield II consistently demonstrates that bathing in dirt is actually good for skin care (well, feather care).

In addition, chickens conclusively demonstrate that most problems in life, if met with a rigid and unyieldingly passive stance, will eventually solve themselves. These fierce advocates for complacency highlight that, if in danger, one may simply freeze until a) one gets eaten, b) one’s friends get eaten, allowing one to escape, and c) one’s opponent either gets bored, full, or dies of old age.

How much better would we all sleep if we approached life in the same way? (Are you going to get eaten tomorrow? No. Then why worry your pretty little head?)

Owning chickens is also an illuminating exercise in the cultivation of highly valued character traits. For example, chickens conclusively demonstrate that so-called “tough love” is far more refining for one’s character than its weak-willed, lily-livered cousin, compassion: “What’s that, friend? You have a sore leg? Let me peck hard at it for you.”

When not using their collective lung power to alert you to the lizard that just slithered past their enclosure, or stockpiling their eggs in the most inaccessible part of the coop in preparation for the bok-pocalpyse (see what I did there?), chickens are simply a delight.

If you buy your eggs in the supermarket, you’re missing out on the highly-strung bundle of dimwittedness that is this flightless, tubby, lovable bird. If your only interaction with chickens is that Coles $11 BBQ-flavoured carcass you tear apart each week to get to the delicious stuffing, you need to take one for the team and volunteer to get to know some of these feathered fiends – ahem, friends – in person.

"I know what you did last Saturday night."

Go on. Adopt a chicken today.

Outside of being eaten, what could possibly go wrong?

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