Is One Chicken As Good As Another?
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
The wonderful resource that is the National Agricultural Library/U.S.D.A. offers ‘poultry fanciers’ a bird’s eye view (sorry, couldn’t help it), into the world of chickens through the writings of the revered Robert Frost.
As a compatriot in the world of writing it does not surprise me to see the great Frost espouse on a variety of subjects when he put quill to paper, (sorry, did it again). To earn our keep us writers are bound to write both fiction and non-fiction with equal zeal to provide education and to share a fun experience for our readers. Though in fact in this case, the poet Robert Frost lived and worked as a chicken farmer in Derry, New Hampshire from 1900 to 1909. So his experience was first hand.
Here is an excerpt from one of Frost’s many writings, which appeared in “The Poultry Fancier’" that the modern day ‘chicken fancier’, (the birds not the slang meaning), may find amusing. I did.
“We have no patience with the people who prejudicially maintain that 'a chicken is a chicken' or in other words take the stand that one "chicken' is as good as another. The ordinary mongrel fowl is in the same class with the razorbacked hog, the scrub cow and the plug horse. They constitute the scum of the race. They will sometimes thrive under most adverse conditions, but so do weeds and other obnoxious things. They are good for no purpose but what Standard bred fowls would be infinitely better. There are people who ask what there is to admire in a chicken. These same people would treat with mingled pity and contempt the person who would ask them what there was to admire about a beautiful rose or other flower and yet the flower is to many people, much farther down the scale of beauty and value. A Standard bred fowl is not only beautiful to look upon but it is a living thing that appreciates proper care and responds to intelligent effort in fashioning it after our ideals. It is an interesting companion as much so as any dumb creature can be and to the true fancier there is a fascination in studying individual specimens and solving the problems of breeding, that is not equaled by the pleasure derived from an association with inanimate objects of any character. Maximum egg production and market poultry are secondary considerations from the view point of the fancier but the utility poultryman who is so prone to condemn the fancy must humiliatingly admit that Standard bred or fancy fowls are the best layers, the best table fowls and are the foundation of every market poultry plant that accomplishes results worth mentioning.”
Frost wrote a series of 12 articles on the poultry topic, most of which were total fiction but also included a set of 3 profiles of MA and NH poultry farmers that offer some insights into good ‘chickenkeeping’ methods that still apply today.
By far my favorite read is this one, 112 page of 'The Poultry Fancier” 1907 Editionthat incorporates all sorts of wonderful history lessons of the chicken breeds we love today, with keen insights into keeping and showing birds and judging them for quality. Traps that confined a chicken until she laid an egg, nests in coops with hinged doors were invented to supply a secure environment for chickens to be housed and to lay their eggs, though of course a professional poultry fancier sought out fertile eggs over infertile eggs when breeding the best chickens for show. In fact if a chicken laid an egg while at a showgrounds, it was instantly smashed, for fear a competitor might nefariously obtain the valuable pedigree of the poultry on show.
There are many hacks when it comes to hatching temperamental breeds of chickens such as the German Langshan, and many opportunities for the chicken fancier to parade their poultry progeny across the U.S.A., the ‘creche’ of the North-East show circuit being Boston Gardens.
I’m not sure that even in today’s modern world of poultry fancier persons that span the globe, there is a high possibility of securing a major ‘nest egg’ as a chicken fancier. By the way, the term ‘nest egg’ derived from the practice of farmers putting eggs into hens’ nests to induce them to lay more eggs.
The expression credited to racehorse breeder John E. Madden in the first half of the twentieth century:
"Breed the best to the best and hope for the best" is a phrase that applies to all types of animal breeding. Perhaps that is as good a place to start as any.
Passionate poultry fanciers exist today just as they did back in the day. Whether you are new to the world of chicken-keeping or have bred and kept birds for many years, one thing everyone knows is that chickens do have distinct personalities. They can be extremely engaging and their characters are as varied as those in any Frost poem and can become beloved members of the family.
“Our chicken likes to watch TV though the window. She gets carried to the coop when we go to bed…..” Carol Schmitt McClure
“Never have a snack to yourself again when you have tiny raptors running around…” Shalissa Bower
Where did the expression ‘hen party’ start anyway?
“Chicken party time, on their chicken party table….” Melissa Sue De Spain
The other bizarre thing that happens when you embark upon chicken ownership, is that you cannot have just one. Well you shouldn’t of course, because an only chicken is a lonely chicken and it will not fare well. But there is such a thing as ‘chicken math’ according to the wonderful Facebook group Backyard Chickens BYC (a clutch of chicken fanciers that encompasses an astonishing 180.2 k followers).
According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of ‘chicken math,’ “The phenomena that stems from the addictive nature of raising chickens. This specific type of poultry math means that a keeper of chickens will perpetually add to the flock and always end up with more chickens than expected, even when taking into account chicken math.”
It is important to make a judicious decision based on some due diligence before you pick up a half dozen adoring chicks on impulse at a store (perhaps not the best source by the way), as it is highly likely you will be besotted with the critters within due course, as many a spouse has found out.
“So we bought a house in the country about a year ago. I always told my husband that if we bought in the country I was going to have chickens. He didn't want chickens so we settled and got chickens this past spring….” Ashley Russell
Chickens can also provide unforeseen benefits for family members.
“This is my Hubby’s therapy chicken, it’s a thing!...” Lorraine Shannon Hedrick
It is thus essential that you plan for the future housing needs of your flock, and purchase the necessary real estate accordingly. The variety of chicken coops that are available on the market, pre-built and ready to go is amazing. From exquisite pretty garden additions such as the renowned TV personality Lisa Steele’s coop which you can tour here on matterport to chicken mansions.
As with any animal husbandry the chickens will require a lot of maintenance and ‘taking care of business’ will involve some effort on the part of the caregiver. Chicken keepers often have a sense of humor to share about their poultry housing issues:
The Poop A Lot Palace – Photo courtesy Melissa Sue De Spain
For easy clean up and hygiene the purchase of a carefully crafted coop with a well-sealed easy clean floor surface will be a boon. Here’s some advice on How To Select The Best Chicken Coop.
Wherever your ‘poultry fancying’ dreams take you the addition of chickens to your life can yield more benefits than just egg or meat production. Perhaps taking chicken ownership to the next level and entering competitive ‘poultry fancier’ status is in your future.
Perhaps there is much to be gained from the show ring as Frost explained in this excerpt from one of his more obscure poems:
A BLUE RIBBON AT AMESBURY
Such a fine pullet ought to go
All coiffured to a winter show,
And be exhibited, and win.
The answer is this one has been--
And come with all her honors home.
Her golden leg, her coral comb,
Her fluff of plumage, white as chalk,
Her style, were all the fancy's talk
It seems as if you must have heard.
She scored an almost perfect bird.
In her we make ourselves acquainted
With one a Sewell might have painted.
Here common with the flock again,
At home in her abiding pen,
She lingers feeding at the trough,
The last to let night drive her off.
The one who gave her ankle-band,
Her keeper, empty pail in hand,
He lingers too, averse to slight
His chores for all the wintry night.
He leans against the dusty wall,
Immured almost beyond recall,
A depth past many swinging doors
And many litter-muffled floors.
He meditates the breeder's art.
He has a half a mid to start,
With her for Mother Eve, a race
That shall all living things displace.
'Tis ritual with her to lay
The full six days, then rest a day;
At which rate barring broodiness
She well may score an egg-succes...............
.................The roost is her extent of flight.
Yet once she rises to the height,
She shoulders with a wing so strong
She makes the whole flock move along.
The night is setting in to blow.
It scours the windowpane with snow,
But barely gets from them or her
For comment a complacent chirr.
The lowly pen is yet a hold
Against the dark and wind and cold
To give a prospect to a plan
And warrant prudence in a man.”