Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 13, 2013

Fowl advice: Urban chicken craze is nothing new to this egg

— — As you have heard too much of wars and rumors of wars lately, my subject today is meant as a refreshing change in the conversation. So instead of chicken hawks, let us talk about chickens.

As it happens, urban chicken farming has become a trend. It is occurring in the most unlikely places, including my adopted hometown of Sewickley, Pa.

Sewickley has an unfortunate reputation as the sort of place where the only clucking is social disapproval directed at the old roosters in blazers and loafers up at the club. This stereotype of Sewickley as a refined environment where the ruffling of feathers is frowned upon does not do justice to the town’s cultural diversity. It is necessary to call fowl on this outdated notion.

Recently, my wife and I downsized and moved from one part of town to another. We knew we were in a different part of town when we woke up one morning and heard ... chickens.

Well, the chickens were music to my ears. When I was a child, the family next door had chickens. In fact, they influenced my writing style. I tend to make my way pecking at one little tidbit after another, hoping to turn up a joke.

Laws on chickens vary from one municipality to the next. In some places, chickens are banned. In Sewickley, chickens are allowed, but not roosters. That is all we need in the suburbs — frustrated hens. Surely, there is enough of that already.

The question for me that recent morning was: What sort of chickens were they? Were they Rhode Island Reds? Or the more traditional Sewickley Red and Green Pants?

Then I discovered that a tour of a dozen chicken coops in the 15143 ZIP code scheduled, billed as the second annual Sewick’s Chicks tour. I could hardly stay on my roost waiting for the event.

But a friend offered me a ticket to the Steelers game, and so I spent the afternoon watching the home team trying without much success to scratch up a score. You can’t count your football champions before they hatch.

My wife, not wishing to stay cooped up at home, did go on the chicken tour and brought back a favorable report. This set me to dreaming nostalgically about my days as an amateur chicken farmer in California.

Nostalgia isn’t quite the right word. Actually, it was a disaster. My mistake was to get a rabbit first for our kids, who were little and were clamoring for a bunny. The problem with bunnies is that they do nothing but twitch their noses. They might as well be in Congress.

This became boring, even for the kids, and so I bought three little chicks and put them into the rabbit coop. Big mistake! The rabbit promptly sat on one of the chicks and we were down to two.

The rabbit was kind enough not to sit on any more chicks, and they soon grew bigger and sometimes perched on the rabbit. One day my wife went down to the rabbit/chicken coop and shrieked: “Your chickens have laid an egg!”

Imagine my joy as I rushed down to see. Imagine my disappointment when the egg was cold to the touch and our fridge was one egg short of a load. I had to tell my wife that poultry humor was the lowest form of wit.

Eventually, the two hens did start laying eggs, which were delicious. But one day I came back to find the biggest egg I had ever seen. The chicken who laid it sat paralyzed from the effort. It had apparently suffered a stroke.

Great! What do you do with a paralyzed chicken anyway? Carry it into the vet’s office and have all the people with sick poodles laugh at you? I decided to humanely put it out of its misery, giving it a little blindfold and a cigarette.

I found a good home for the remaining chicken with my friend Gary, who had a flock of them, but not without one glitch. He took the chicken, but two days later I found it back with the rabbit.

A classic California note was left for me: “Dear Reg, Your chicken lacks the proper socialization skills. It is only used to rabbits, not other chickens.” Fortunately, Gary was persuaded to take the chicken back, and in the end it learned proper chicken manners.

Take it from an old rooster: You may want to think hard before you get chickens.

Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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