Wednesday 29 May 2013

Frankie Magazine Article Review - Feeling Clucky by Eleanor Venables

Frankie Magazine - May/ June Edition

I read an article in the May/ June edition, Issue 53 of Frankie magazine - Feeling Clucky by Eleanor Venables.  It's a half page article so it's not intended to be a complete guide to keeping chickens in a suburban setting.  It's a short piece to encourage city dwellers to consider becoming hen parents for company, eggs, gobbling of kitchen scraps, garden maintenance and for something a bit different.  Unfortunately the article drags up some standard clich├ęs about hens and that just annoys me.  The article is meant to encourage people to consider keeping hens, however it also presents chickens in a less than positive light.


Whilst recommending that chicken owners offer their flock a sturdy water bowl, one that can not easily be tipped over by a pair of roosting feet, the author uses this topic to segue-way into a slight about how apparently unintelligent chickens are.  She references a story that a headless chicken once lived for 18 months.  The story comes from an event more than half a century ago, where allegedly someone tried to cull a chicken by cutting its head off, did not do a proper job and so they left part of the head in tact.  Thankfully (if the story is in fact at all true anyway) the bird did not succumb to infection and die a hideous and prolonged death but apparently lived for a number of months afterwards.  The author uses this vile tale to highlight how chickens are "not the smartest of animals".  Can you imagine how upset people would be if a dog sustained a severe head injury from an attempt to exterminate it but yet managed to survive and stay alive for months afterward?  It would be this enormous mixture of outrage at the person who mutilated it and celebration at the marvellous dog.  But for a chicken it's assumed that pain and discomfort are either not an issue or of no consequence as it's 'just a chicken', they hold no value anyway so who should care - let's make a joke out of a badly wounded bird and as this author suggests, chickens have minimal intellect, this story backs it up.  I have had some great chickens with long term memories, problem solving skills and gorgeous and varied natures and others who are simple, straight to the point and predictable.  Much like people there is no such thing as 'you've known one you've known them all'.  They are varied, unique and you never know what you're going to find once you get to know them.  Certainly I'd trade the most difficult and unusual chicken for the most difficult and unusual human every time. 


Then there's the description of a rooster.  I do hate generalisations that put everything (especially an animal for heavens sakes) in one box and determine it to be abhorrent.  The author describes roosters to be nasty, having mad, beady little eyes and being known for their aggression.  Some roosters are very aggressive and a real handful.  This is often a combination of genetics (some breeds are particularly skittish and difficult) and a lack of frequent, caring, human contact from a young age.  However the few that I have purchased (hoping they were hens) I have had from tiny chicks, handled them every day, treated them with great care and respect, have grown to be spectacular gentle-men.  I've never been silly enough to tick my neighbours off with pre sunrise crowing and more or less beg the local council to come confiscate them, by keeping the boys in the long run.  Roosters keep the hens beautifully in check, lower the petty squabbles amongst the girls and nurture and protect the hens to such an extent that they often run themselves down.  They are amazing, gorgeous and might I add completely innocent animals who are doing nothing more than following their inbuilt instincts - crowing to announce the day, determine territory, bring the flock together and protecting their girls from any perceived threat.  
If you saw something unknown, untrusted, 40 times your size coming at your family, wouldn't you try to protect them? 

Poorly Researched Dietary Advice

As for the advice about feeding chickens, not so good.  The author says that "aside from onions and garlic, most veggies and fruit are great for them".  Garlic is considered a go-to as a natural remedy for pest control and a general tonic for good health.  My girls get an occasional spoon of garlic granules for a little treat and when their father gives them a cheese free hamburger, they all enjoy a little sliver of onion.  I don't think any reasonably brained person would think of raising an onion and garlic fed hen (imagine that on the packet of a frozen chook next to the grain fed choices) as it's clearly not intended to be a staple component of their diet.  I don't remember evolutionary history being full of chickens frolicking in the garlic fields, guzzling onion rings for dessert.  As an occasional aspect in small amounts, there is absolutely nothing wrong with onions and garlic in a chicken's diet.  I get curry about once a fortnight and there is always plenty left over for the girls the next day.  This is certainly no way to take a short cut to curried eggs!  
What I would say about something not to feed chickens is that feeding them huge armfuls of lettuce (such as you can find in a lot of produce departments on-floor bins that people have peeled off the lettuce heads).  Lettuce has almost no nutritional value at all and in large amounts it leads to chickens having really watery droppings and therefore soggy bum feathers to attract flies and burn the skin. Feeding a few leaves between several hens should be no problem amongst a variety of other food choices.  We feed our girls silver-beet as it has some great nutritional elements.  It's also really easy to grow if you're inclined. 
I don't mean to be intentionally picky to the author but there is no such breed as a 'Silky Bantam'.  The term is Silkie and they are not bantams.   They are also not a chicken you would buy for their fabulous laying prowess as the article indicates.  They do indeed "look awesome", are generally easy to handle and tame-up well with regular calm and gentle human contact.  They do not have "scrawny feet", they have feathered feet which I have had people gush over for years in excitement and amazement.  

I wish that if someone writes an article to encourage people to keep chickens that it be factual, fair and do what it sets out to do - encourage, celebrate and spotlight chickens.  

Sorry Eleanor Venables but in the immortal words of Kath Day-Knight, "It was good but I don't agree".  

Rosa and Farrah (Silkie hen) - beautiful, brilliant and beloved.  

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