Sunday, September 24, 2006

She's doing it for the chickens!

Jerry's kids have Jerry.

Chickens? Well, they have...Oh, you won't believe who.

As career moves go, this one's brilliant.

But if you're going to eat 'em, don't name 'em

I was sick last week, but when I was finally able to eat, my kid made me supper: French toast with our own eggs and maple syrup made up in Newfane, Vermont. Now that's a meal that can bring you back from the dead.

This is one reason why I love having chickens: the fantastic eggs, rich and bright yellow. And people are figuring that out, as an eagle-eyed reader from Oklahoma noted this piece from USA Weekend:


The year's trendiest pet comes with breakfast.
Chickens cost between $1 to $5 each and can lay up to six eggs a week.

It seems the "Old Farmer's Almanac" was correct when it predicted that chickens would be one of the hottest pets of 2006. Demand for the birds is up in urban areas because of their low cost, minimal care requirements and the benefit of cheap, fresh eggs every day.

"Our average order keeps getting smaller, which means we're selling to more hobbyists," says Bud Wood, co-owner of Webster City, Iowa's Murray McMurray Hatchery, one of the country's largest rare-breed hatcheries. He notes a "significant increase" in sales to large cities.

Egganic Industries in Ringgold, Va., reports a 15% jump in sales of Henspas, chicken coops that range in cost from $300 to $9,000. Linnton Feed & Seed, suppliers of farm products in Portland, Ore., sold just 200 chickens in 1996; last year they sold 800.

"People raise chickens [mostly] for their eggs," says store owner Dan Cadmus. "They want to know where their food comes from. There's no better way than to have it pecking around in the yard."

Chickens cost $1 to $5 each and can produce up to six eggs per week. They need about the same care as cats: food, water and a daily scoop of the coop.

Seattle Tilth, a non-profit group that teaches organic gardening, now offers City Chickens 101, a course covering the basics on raising chickens in urban and suburban settings.

Still, check local zoning requirements before buying a flock. Regulations vary widely for hens, but roosters, which don't lay eggs, often are banned.

"Once you've tasted an egg that a hen has laid that morning," says Seattle Tilth's Karen Luetjen, "there's no going back to supermarket eggs."

-- Jodi Helmer

Know your eggs

Don't want to raise chickens to get the eggs you need? Then get the eggs you want at supermarkets, which stock an increasingly wide variety.

We consulted the U.S. Department of Agriculture and United Egg Producers to clarify egg carton labels.

Conventional: Hens live in stacked "battery" cages, usually four to eight chickens to a cage, with at least 67 square inches of floor space per chicken.

Cage free: Hens live on the floor of a barn rather than in cages.

Free range: Hens either live outdoors or have unlimited access to the outdoors.

Organic: Hens are fed vegetables grown without any antibiotics, commercial fertilizers or growth hormones.

Omega-3: Hens are fed a diet containing ground flaxseed, which produces eggs containing slightly more polyunsaturated fatty acids.

-- Kristina Stefanova

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chickens today, people tomorrow?

"We have to eat happy eggs from happy chickens."
Thich Nhat Hanh

Apparently, Ben and Jerry's have come around to this sentiment, having now agreed to use humanely-produced eggs in their products.

The Times article also pointed out that Whole Foods Market was making accommodations to make their lobsters "more comfortable in its stores."

Er, before people buy 'em, take them home, and plunk them into pots of boiling water. But I digress.

I'm all for ethical treatment of chickens. But jeez, if only foodies would get as riled up about ethical treatment of humans.

A few years ago I heard then-Dateline NBC producer Andy Court speak at a journalism conference about a story in which he and his camera crew followed a migrant farm worker from Texas as he made his way north with his family for the picking season.

After thousands of miles of travel, long days and weeks of picking, lots of problems with the broken-down van, the family arrived back in Texas, with no more money than they had when they left.

Viewers were so moved by the report, that they sent the network thousands of dollars in donations to help the family.

But that story is the norm in our food production and distribution system. Pick up the book Fast Food Nation and you'll see it also applies to meat production. It was big news last year when Taco Bell increased payments to its tomato pickers by a penny per pound. But this step almost doubled the wage; according to the Washington Post, pickers had to pick two tons of tomatoes to earn $50.

If Americans are willing to send a farm worker a check for 25 or 50 bucks, would they pay an extra quarter for a jar of pickles if they knew that the cucumber pickers had been paid a decent wage?

Why not a Certified Humane label that indicates that the farm and food factory workers are treated at least as well as the chickens?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

La Reine de Palais de Poulets

What, you were thinking Marie Antoinette?

Here's a pic sent in as a chicken blog "must have," from Peter down in Connecticut, who had the good fortune to sit behind Martha at a showing of "Capote" at the local movie theater earlier this year, and pronounced her "better looking in person than she is on t.v."

I can't be sure, but that might actually be a guinea hen in her arms.

I used to make fun of Martha, but as I get older, I like her more; her magazine is beautiful, and okay, if she still gets a little over the top with the stencils and projects, well, that's just Martha.

One year she had a great story on fancy Christmas wreaths--too much work. I just cut the pages out and hung the pictures of the wreaths up around my house.

You decorate your house with the army you have.

My sister Sandy thinks it was Martha who started this whole chicken thing, and then I remembered her first book and the Palais de Poulets (for you unwashed, that's palace of chickens in French), which she had in her backyard. She also single-handedly pumped up the market for Araucanas, who lay those lovely blue eggs and, who also, I think, happen to be among the smartest birds in the flock.

Coops are a subject of endless discussion among chicken owners. We are on our second one now, and recently ran into the couple who bought our original coop, and were glad to hear they were still happy with it.

They had set up a laying box, using the green luminescent shell of an I-Mac, and said the birds LOVED laying in it.

Now that's recycling.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chicken Lit 101

New York Times readers are probably familiar with Bill Grimes's My Fine Feathered Friend, his book about the chicken who showed up one day in his Queens backyard.

Grimes's work is but one piece of a growing body of chicken lit.

In his book, Living With Chickens, Vershire, Vermont, author Jay Rossier writes almost as much about the metaphysical value of chicken ownership as he does nuts-and- bolts information.

British author Martin Gurdon, in his droll poultry-memoir, Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance: Reflections on Raising Chickens, sums things up nicely:
"Having a few hens at the bottom of the garden was supposed to be a bit of fun, a mild distraction, but it was fast becoming a life-changing experience."

Can a Woman Love Her Chickens Too Much? (Holiday rerun)

Go ahead and laugh, but it's a question worth asking. When I published this essay asking that very question in the local paper recently, I got a lot of responses.

For a couple of days, at the grocery store, at the post office, everywhere I went, people would come up to me and say, "So, how are the chickens?"

Then they'd tell me their own chicken stories. There are a million of 'em.

The big, brawny police chief in the next town told me that, when he was a kid, he lived next to a chicken farm that had several thousand hens and 500 roosters.

It made me think of a fortune cookie: Man who lives next to 500 roosters (fill in the blank).

But today I heard the capper, sent to me from my friend Bill,
a closet chicken lover who lives in Santa Monica:
Cops: Chicken dies, wife shoots husband
September 6, 2006

CHESHIRE, Ore. --A woman shot her husband in the back after he killed her pet chicken, the Lane County sheriff's deputies said. Deputies said they were sure that Mary Gray, 58, intended to shoot her husband, Stephen Gray, 43. They weren't certain if the husband meant to fire at the chicken.

"We don't know if it was an accident or if it was on purpose," Sgt. Clint Riley said. "It depends who you ask."

Riley said the couple had been drinking for much of Monday while they did yard work at their rented home in the town northwest of Eugene, and they began arguing after Stephen Gray shot the chicken with a .44-caliber handgun.

Deputies said he was then hit with a shot from a .22-caliber rifle, and is recovering. Mary Gray was arraigned Tuesday on an assault charge.