Everyone who knows me knows that my all-time favorite documentary is PBS’s The Natural History of the Chicken, a film on chicken farming that is so ridiculous it could be a Christopher Guest creation. It has chicken facts, testimonials from chicken lovers, and, best of all, reenactments! It has also instilled in me a desire to own a chicken the way that Pushing Daisies makes me want to get a rooftop hive of bees and become an “urban honey pioneer.”
I bring this up now only because I was listening to the Judge John Hodgman podcast this week, and the case brought before him concerned whether or not a couple should get a few backyard chickens (Episode 68: The Cluck Stops Here). Much to my dismay, the stupidity of the birds was emphasized as well as the horrifying realities of the “pecking order.” To be clear, John Hodgman (essayist/satirist, author of The Areas of My Expertise, and sometimes actor–Bored to Death) was not trying to malign chickens, only trying to paint a picture more realistic than that of sweet-natured, feather balls cruising about the yard that many city dwellers imagine; I admit to still being among their number. I am certain that I will deny the unpleasantness of owning chickens until I get some first-hand experience. After all, the chickens that live next door to me seem happy and healthy; what more proof do I need? I will not ruin the episode by giving away all the details because it is highly entertaining and definitely worth a listen.
During the course of the episode, however, I was intrigued by John Hodgman’s reference to Susan Orlean’s chicken article in The New Yorker. Susan Orlean is the author of The Orchid Thief—the book that inspired one of my favorite movies, Adaptation—and most recently, Rin Tin Tin. I found an archived copy of the chicken article, “The It Bird,” and was delighted to see that Orlean’s own chicken obsession also started with The Natural History of the Chicken:
If I had never seen Janet Bonney reënact the mouth-to-beak resuscitation of her hen Number Seven, who had been frozen solid in a nor’ easter, then was thawed and nursed back to life–being hand-fed and massaged as she watched doctor shows on TV–I might never have become a chicken person.
So begins Orlean’s article. If you still aren’t compelled to watch this documentary, it’s on Netflix streaming by the way, then here is a teaser clip of the very scene described above:
All quirk and charm aside, it is important to do your research if you’re considering some backyard chickens. Read Orlean’s article and listen to the podcast. Here are a few of the resources mentioned in them, as well:
- “How to Raise Chickens in Your Own Backyard” (MarthaStewart.com)
- How to Raise Chickens: Everything You Need to Know by Christine Heinrichs
- Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by Jessi Bloom
And just for fun…
- HenCam: A Chicken Keeping Life (HenCam.com)
- Chicken from around the world (Exotic chicken pics from KOOL-KINI’s flickr photostream)
- Pickin Chicken breed selector app from Mother Earth News
- Chicken Footstools from thecitygirlfarm.com, see below: