Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Not to Raise a Chicken

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret, who used to raise chickens. Margaret was not a farmer, just a woman trying to make the world a better place and teach her kids a little something about eggs in the process. Margaret did everything right: she purchased an endangered, heritage species of chicken, built them a safe and humane coop, and fed them whole-grain organic chicken feed...mostly.

 In her quest to be a better human, Margaret also chose to feed her chickens leftover scraps of whole-grain bread.  After all, grains are grains and a good Global Citizen wouldn't waste, right? The chickens LOVED the bread and gobbled it up. So she gave them more. "Look at me," said Margaret. "Not only am I saving an endangered species of chicken, farming my own eggs, and homeschooling, I am also now saving money and creating less food waste by breaking bread with my hens!" Margaret gave herself a little pat on the back and then, in a very Maria-from-Sound-of-Music manner, led her children to the coop to collect eggs.

 It was going to be a very pastoral experience. Or so she thought.

When she got there, it was carnage. The chickens had gone all Animal Farm and pecked one of their own to death. The children ran away.  Margaret was beside herself. But, being the good Global Citizen that she was, Margaret cleaned up the mess and perservered.

 A few days later, it happened again. Death by pecking. By this point, the children were terrified to help Margaret. Can you blame them?

Margaret called in a neighbor to investigate the murders. But the chickens were not talking.

 When it happened a third time, Margaret brought the latest victim to the vet for an autopsy; maybe she was missing something. He asked her what she had been feeding the chickens. "Whole grain bread," she said proudly.

"Anything else?" asked The Vet.

"A bit of chicken feed. But that's it." replied Margaret. "They love it."

The Vet knew the problem.

As it turns out, chickens need a certain amount of protein. The exact amount, in fact, in organic chicken feed, but way more than the amount found in, say, scraps of whole grain bread. Margaret's chickens were severely protein deficient. And, using their chicken instrincts, went after the easiest source of protein: the feathers of the weakest chicken in the coop.

Margaret's chickens were not evil or possessed, just desparete for protein. Margaet felt awful. She expressed her guilt and dismay to The Vet. "Don't feel bad." he said. "now you know how not to raise a chicken."

 This is my new favorite story. Who among us hasn't killed a few chickens? Personally, with the very best of intentions of being a good Global Citizen, I have found out how not to make homemade fish sticks, how not to write an exam without inadvertantly cheating, and how not to can tomatoes if I wish to avoid botulism.

And I know I'm not the only one proud of all these how nots. When asked if he was disappointed that after years of experimenting, all he did was invent one measly lightbulb, Thomas Edison replied:I didn't just invent one lightbulb, I also found 1000 methods of how not to invent a light bulb. Pretty cool, huh.

So tell me, what's your "how not to raise a chicken" tale?

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