I’ve been raising chickens for a year. We started out with two, then four, then six, then raised three clutches of babies with a couple of broody hens. I just got more and more into it. I have a personal relationship with my chickens. They have names, I handle each one each day.
Some of my friends who have chickens tell me not to name them. They are just animals, used for eggs and meat but aren’t pets. And we’re all familiar with the horrors of industrial chicken farming where chickens are not even treated as living things but as an animate commodity. For me though it is personal because I care for these chickens and I eat their eggs and I can and have butchered them and in many ways, on many levels they are a part of me.
Which brings me to Ginger, a little Buff Orpington with a big personality. Ginger would be a cull chicken in most flocks, ending up in the soup pot. She’s never been a good layer and nearly died from becoming egg bound. I nursed her back to health and now she lays, but her eggs have a soft shell that usually breaks in the nest.
Ginger follows me everywhere. She comes when she’s called, never runs away or flaps when handled. I take her around the yard when I’m gardening and let her scratch and eat bugs. She is very talkative, the greeter of the henhouse. She doesn’t really think of herself as a chicken – more of a person in a chicken suit.
Even though Ginger is a “useless eater” (a very scary phrase right out of Hitler’s playbook) she gives a quality and dimension to the flock and my relationship to the flock. And that has an intangible value to me, as valuable as eggs or meat, maybe even more.
I like having a personal relationship with my food, with my animals, with my land. Because, truth be told, we all have that same personal relationship with what we eat, what we do and where we live whether or not we recognize it.
That’s one thing I love about permaculture. It’s all about the relationships: man to land, land to animal, animal to man, and on and on. I think about all those intertwined relationships and I wonder: where did this egg come from, what was the hen that layed it fed, how was she treated, what happened to the waste she generated, did her feet touch the earth, did the sun warm her feathers. At least in this case I can answer those questions. Come on Ginger, let’s go pull some weeds.