Columns

Do backyard chickens have to be dressed? 2014.10.15

By RICH FOLEY

It must be a coincidence that several area towns are in the process of considering whether or not to allow the raising of chickens within their borders. Swanton recently decided against the idea. Morenci and Fayette are still discussing the possibility. A few weeks ago Tecumseh joined the list of towns thinking about the idea.

In Swanton, the decision reportedly came after the Fulton County Health Department expressed opposition to the plan. Another concern was that approving the proposal might lead to “other exotic animals” in the village.

I’m not sure I quite follow that logic. Bengal tigers are exotic. Polar bears are exotic. Giraffes are exotic. Chickens, on the other hand, are lunch.

Mind you, I’m not claiming to be an expert. My closest brush with owning a chicken came about 15 years ago when I was following a chicken truck through Wauseon. We were waiting in the left turn lane on North Shoop Avenue when the light turned green.

After the truck moved forward, a confused young pullet stood in the road, looking about as surprised to be there as I was to see it. I still don’t know how it managed to escape. I briefly considered rescuing it, but continued on. When I came back that way about 20 minutes later, it was gone, probably on its way to someone’s dinner table. 

That experience and checking out the gigantic chicken that used to stand along US-127 between Fayette and Hudson   summed up my knowledge of chickens, not counting eating the occasional chicken sandwich. I had one Saturday. It was delicious.

Since I knew so little about poultry, I recently ordered a sample copy of “Backyard Poultry” magazine. I think I’ve already learned more than I probably need to know. For instance, I had no idea there were so many different breeds of chickens.

The only breed I could name without much thought was the Rhode Island Red, but the magazine had ads for dozens of breeds I’ve never heard of like the White Crested Black Polish, French Silver Cuckoo Maran, Buff Orpington and—I’m not making this up—-the Black Sex-Link, which is available from a Michigan breeder. There’s even a breed called the Buckeye, perfect if Fayette approves chickens in town.

One breeder was running an ad featuring a variety of colored eggs. If you wanted, for example, lavender, blue, olive or copper colored eggs, he had the breed  you needed to get eggs of the desired hue.

Another full page ad promoted a machine billed as the country’s best-selling chicken plucker. They come in a variety of sizes, enabling you to buy a large one and start your own business, plucking the chickens of neighbors wanting to avoid the job. 

And finally, a classified ad that proves that chicken owners can get just as carried away as any dog or cat owner. Under the heading “Clothes For Chickens” was an ad for “Crocheted or knitted chicken sweaters and hats.”

When I mentioned the ad to office manager Kim Ekins, she asked if I had ever read the book about Amelia Bedelia, a fictional character who always took everything she heard literally. When the family she worked for asked her to “dress the chicken,” she put overalls and socks on it. 

 I’ve never read the book, but I learned on the Internet that there’s a statue of Amelia in Manning, S.C., the hometown of author Peggy Parish. Oddly, the statue includes a small dog, but no chicken.

But enough about Amelia. On the chicken clothing website, business owner Pam Todd states, “A hand-crocheted chicken sweater will keep your chickens warm during cold, windy or snowy days.” To help illustrate that statement, there’s a photo of a “customer” standing in the snow while wearing his or her chicken sweater.

I’m not sure if the “model” looks warm or, more likely, embarrassed. But if you’re going to put a chicken in the snow for a photo shoot, why doesn’t it have boots? And why aren’t the hats mentioned in the ad on the website? The poor creature is hatless as well as bootless.

And if that isn’t disturbing enough, Ms. Todd also makes chicken turtleneck sweaters, “especially for those chickens who have missing feathers on their necks.” The expression on this chicken suggests the poor thing is mortified. I might be wrong, but it seems to be thinking “Please, I’d rather be a box of Chicken McNuggets than to be seen in this sweater!”