Tag Archives: Poultry

Permissions To Come, Or the Saga of The Backyard Chicken

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Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

It is a heady and perplexing question, to be sure. Like the classical philosophers of old, I do not have an acceptable answer, either. I’m not even going to try.

However, for more and more people across this land, a more appropriate and timely question has evolved. They now ask themselves if perhaps they should acquire some chickens, which could provide some tasty eggs for their morning breakfast. People are now looking at their backyards with fresh eyes, searching for a handy and level spot to erect that new chicken coop. Unfortunately, the next question becomes all to prominent and leaps to center stage. “Is it legal, they ask”? Now there’s a question! Again, it is also not so easy to answer in simple terms. This can of worms is large, and it holds more slithering things than your well-tended compost pile.

For lack of a better term, the backyard chicken movement is exploding across the country, much to the chagrin of local jurisdictions and the faceless bureaucratic machine. It is a suburban, and increasingly urban phenomena. Well informed citizens are demanding high quality, locally grown food. Imagine that! The local food movement continues to gain momentum, with more followers and practitioners every day. It’s a national issue now, and it is not going away anytime soon. But it starts on the local level, and chickens are a big part of it.

For example, the city council of a small town near me, recently voted to consider new draft code provisions relating to chickens within the city limits and residential neighborhoods. Apparently, it is currently illegal to keep a chicken. Who knew? Well, several of the residents who testified did not. They had been keeping chickens for years, without issue. No one had bothered to discuss it with them. For some unexplained reason, it was time to come out of the chicken closet. They now wished to tend to their birds legally, with favor, and approval.

The city council was quick to state that it was a  land use matter, and as such, falls within their purview. It’s all about zoning, you see, and it’s not about how you live, but where you live. It’s all about proper consideration, and planning. It’s about rules and regulation, and lawful ordinance. It’s about monitoring and control, enforcement, and penalty. I don’t think the entire, sordid show is about chickens at all.

Typically, an ordinance relating to poultry keeping will determine how many hens you can have, and where and how you must keep them. The birds must be contained and quiet, the coops must be secure. The installation of electric fencing can be required. One must mitigate for noxious odor, and control predators. The birds cannot be allowed to roam free and spread disease, or attract a wandering skunk. Above all, the noisy and offensive rooster is not allowed. They might disturb the neighbors, and it is simply too much for the controlling mind of the clerk. On and on it goes.

I don’t fault our nearby chicken keepers for trying, in fact I applaud them. It’s a noble and just cause, and they have done their best to work along the only route available to them. It is the manner in which we fight that disturbs me. The documenting newspaper article talks of how the group promises to play by the rules. One person is quoted in saying, “I’m confident we will be 100 percent in compliance”. “Compliant”, says she? The article goes on discuss the good points of chicken raising, of how it can educate children as to where their food comes from, while having fun. It touts the economic benefit that could be brought to the revenue of the hardware supply and the gardening store. It balances these ideas against the potential downsides and complaints, and makes the case that perhaps it is not a foolish idea, after all. “Foolish”, indeed. Imagine the foolishness of someone with the audacity to supply their own food.

The residents of Denver, Colorado begged for their right to keep animals some time ago, and now they live under some of the most draconian laws imaginable. Their ordinances require a permit to keep poultry on property. A fee is demanded, and stipulations must be met and maintained. Once permitted, the property is subject to inspection and multiple visits by more than one controlling agency. They arrive when they wish, without appointment. The property must be properly posted, and the neighbors so notified. Permits are subject to renewal, at the government’s discretion, with annual fees. Violators will be prosecuted. Does this sound like some type of preposterous science fiction movie, or a town, or city, near you? We are talking chickens here, and not about some dangerous and toothsome creature from outer space.

I want to know who gained the authority to decide that the chicken limit stops at four, five, or six. When did they decide that? Was I asked to voice my humble opinion? What made it so important to come up with such a law? Were the parameters based on some well thought out scientific study, funded with the public dollar, and performed by some chicken police think tank?  Has anyone considered that roosters are an important piece of the poultry puzzle? If I am not mistaken, they are a vital and necessary component of procreation, and life. Though infertile, a willing hen will bless you with the miracle of an egg without the help of a male. A rooster is required if you wish to replenish your flock. Is it new life, that they despise?

The message they wish to send is clear. How dare you think of enjoying a private egg or two, for yourselves, in peace? You are a criminal of the worst kind, guilty as charged until proven innocent. Your fine, and punishment, is what we say it is. And oh, by the way, the chickens now belong to us.

It is a proverbial, in your face case, of the foxes guarding not one, but all of the hen houses. I like foxes, and I would prefer to preserve their good name. The truth is, they are not foxes anyway, as that would be too tame a description. Bloody tongued wolves would be more like it, circling impatiently in the dark night, eager to blow your house down. The devil is always in the carefully crafted details of the hidden contract, and they administered and diverted our rights away many years ago.

Yet, the wheels are wobbling on the fatally damaged, corporate driven shopping cart. We are taking our chicken coops back, one backyard at a time. They know it, and they cannot allow it. They are desperate, and they grow more terrified every day. We know the truth, and can see the madness of their souls. They hold power over us because we empower them. We didn’t even show up for the fight.

My advice is uncomplicated. Don’t give it all up to them so easily. Refuse to grovel before the beast. It’s sad and pathetic, and it makes us look small. Compliance is not an option, and the monster’s cravings are insatiable. Do not give them the satisfaction of obtaining what they seek, nor allow them the sustaining succor of our fear.

It is time to bypass the lowly denizens of the city council, and their ilk. The time has come to dress down the petty and falsely officious policeman of your subdivisions, and expose the multitude of local tyrants and self-important snitches.

It is time to ignore the directives from the “authorities” on high, or the blather of the party line. They do not have our best interests in mind. If they did they would encourage and help, and not preclude or impede. It’s time to stop playing their dishonest game. Why should we? They don’t play fair, and they never have.

It is time to slip the chains of the oppressors, and throw them back at their flimsy facades. Take a stand, and stare the predator in the eye. Do something disobedient and bold, today. It’s been done before, many, many times. Our acts cannot be separated from the revolutionary history of the sleeping giant, the once free people of our United States.

Let us rise from our knees and stop asking for their permission. It is not their’s to give. It’s that simple. Go out and get a chicken or two, and perhaps a rooster to go with it. Let its morning crow announce to the world that you are awake, and ready. It all starts with a chicken and an egg, on the home grounds of an independent, proud, and defiant people.

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An Undiscovered Country Beyond The Backyard

Moving Colors

The state of New Jersey was nicknamed the garden state in 1876, apparently because it was so obviously filled with so many good things to eat. Later, it became famous for it’s truck farms, which supplied a wide variety of agricultural and dairy products to the large appetites of New York City and Philadelphia. It was still pretty farmy and rural in 1958, when I came along. This was especially true of the southern part of the state, where I grew up.

We moved into a wonderful old house when I was about four years old, on what had once been a working dairy farm on the edge of the Wharton State Forest, and the soon to be protected Pine Barrens. The previous farmers had long since moved away, and the property was sadly neglected and over run with brush and debris. I don’t think my parents thought it was all so wonderful, considering the great work at hand needed to make a proper home for my bothers and sister and I. But it was more than wonderful to me, a young boy with adventure, and nature, close at hand, and just outside the big farmhouse windows.

It was a big, big world to explore, and our immediate acreage kept me occupied through the change of several seasons. After all, our towering and decaying dairy barn was full of pigeons and starlings and rats, and unknown animal moanings. Cottontail rabbits bolted from behind nearly every brush pile, and if I was lucky and quiet I could find a deer under our apples trees in the back lot, late in the evening. Every day held the promise of some new momentous discovery, and I was eager to escape the watchful eye of my mother each morning.

We built forts and played army, hide and seek, and tag, and other games. We fabricated crude animal traps and sat for hours in waiting. I don’t believe we ever caught anything. We hung upside down from trees, and dared our fates. We chased lightning bugs in the early summer evenings, and put them in jars, and watched them light up. We giggled and laughed for the fun of it. Sometimes, we just laid on our backs in the tall green grass and counted big puffy clouds. We did what all kids do when left to roam free, and the hours melted into time and childhood memory.

My mother let us have our heads, with some rules, of course. The big rule was that we were not to leave our property, or play by the roads. That worked just fine for many months, as I had no desire to leave her protective cover or test her motherly patience. That is, until the day I did.

Across the road stood an ominous tangle of tall, matted grass, impenetrable bramble, and forbidding brush that stretched to the forseeable horizon. It was dark and scary looking, and I had been warned many times not to go in there. Still, it beckoned and called, and I began to stare at it, and study. What was in there, I wondered? It begged to be investigated, and conquered.

I remember disappearing into there with another friend, one big, summer day. We steeled ourselves on the edge of the abyss, and dove in. We planned to stay together, for moral support, and of course immediately lost track of one another. I called a time or two with no result. My fear rose in my throat, and I wanted to spin around and jump back out. But my curiosity was stronger, and after some deep quick breaths I continued on, to face whatever lurked ahead.

Another step, and I was totally lost in a magical world of new life and unknown creatures. Any thought of time or past concerns receded into the hot and sticky air, and the sweat poured out of me and stung my eyes as I tried to take it all in. Insects buzzed in my ears. Small birds of all shapes and colors flitted all around me as I worked my way through the brush, and small things scurried in the leaves. Catbirds and mockingbirds called incessantly, pulling me on. A bobwhite quail flushed at my feet, disappearing through some unseen window into the open sky. There were so many birds it was impossible to see them all. Bluejays and meadowlarks called just ahead. Everywhere was birdsong and animal noises, so loud it was nearly deafening. I could not get enough. I had to hear and see it all. Nothing could stop me.

Mockingbird

 

Still, fear was at the edge and began to pick at my adventure. Big black and yellow garden spiders hung in wide, embracing webs, and made me pause. Branches whipped my face and stung me silly. I tripped a few times and fell down. At times it was so thick I had to drop to my belly and slither like a snake. I hoped that I did not meet a real reptile, face to face, at least not then. Once, I became entangled in clawing vines so thick and sharp I began to panic and cry, as small spots of blood appeared on my skin. I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, and if I would ever be able to get back home. I thought of my mother, and what she would do if she knew I was here. Where was she? What had I done? Why had I left my house?

I freed myself from the briars and made one last push forward. I saw a clearing just ahead, and my excitement and sense of adventure returned instantly. I was fearless. I was brave, and I had won. A few more steps and I was clear of it, as I knelt to brush spider webs from my hands and pull leaves and prickly stickers from my collar.

I rubbed the sweat from my nose, then stood, and looked ahead. I could not believe my eyes, and the breath left me all at once! I gasped like a goldfish plucked from his bowl for the first time, with no past experience to cushion the shock of it. I had been transported to some other special place, in fact some other planet in a galaxy far, far away. It was the beauty of it all that grabbed me. It reached in and shook me, all the way to my toes.

Chickens of all shapes, and colors of the rainbow scratched gloriously in the yellow glow of the late morning sun. An iridescent rooster strutted about his hens, head high, and watching. Some bright, white ducks waddled across the yard heading for who knows where. A big blue peacock unfolded his massive tail and danced, in front of a hutch filled with giant, splotchy rabbits. Sparrows chirped and hopped about, no doubt looking for waste grain in the dirt. I saw a small pony in a stall in the shade of a big maple tree.

My feet could not move, nor did they want to. I knew I had stumbled upon an undiscovered country of limitless bounty. I stared at the dilapidated, drafty barn and the irregular lines of an old ramshackle house. Strange smells hung in the breeze, and the pIace had a feel all of it’s own. It was all so new that I had nothing in my small experience to compare it to. My mind struggled as it downloaded massive amounts of new data, racing to correlate and associate each new piece of information.

The place had the look and feel of a broken down but comfortable pair of old work boots.The buildings and yard had no doubt been hacked from brush like I had just come from, and was now losing the unending battle and melding back into nature’s turmoil. Vines and small trees grew under and through old farm machinery and scrap. Farm sheds were starting to list and fall, with sagging doorways and slipped siding.

An Old New Jersey Homestead

Still, every aspect of this eternal homestead bursted with sound and smell, and life. I was mesmerized. I wanted to know what was behind the next outbuilding, and explore every nook and cranny of that place. I wanted to become part of it, and maybe stay there forever. Or wrap it all up, with all it’s parts and pieces, and take it home. It was part of me, already.

Emboldened now, I took a step, and it all changed in a big hurry. Just one step, and the big rooster spied me and let out a warning cackle. He clucked to his hens as he gathered them up, and steered them towards their coop. A cow bellowed from the deep shadows of the barn, as a small herd of kittens stopped their shadow boxing with each other and turned my way. Morning doves stopped cooing from the tops of the huge oak trees above us. I heard a goose let loose, honking loudly from the back of the barn, followed by the strange and stuttering exclamations of some spotted guinea hens as they lept for the trees.

Everywhere I looked was some animal head peeking from in and around countless hiding spots. They had me dead to rights, as if some great spotlight caught me in midstride and lit me up for all the world to see.

I heard a small dog yap, and then a screen door slam, as I saw her. On the barn side of the house stood a large, plump women, with an ample bossum, held in threadbare cloths. She stared ahead from across the barnyard, framed by the vibrant green of tall cornstalks with yellow tassles. She was middle-aged or more, matronly, and perhaps a little near-sighted as she searched for the cause of the commotion in her barnyard. Something was amiss, and she would find out what it was.

She knew the sounds and tone of her world on a normal morning. It was etched within her consciousness, and any change was as obvious to her as a brass marching band in her living room. There was a disturbance in the field and fabric of their existence, and an intruder in their midst. They were tightly connected, one and all, communicating perfectly through various and mysterious means.

The little terrier growled and shook, as it glared at me from between the safety of her stout legs. She wrang her hands on a dish towel as she methodically assessed the situation. Still as a statue, I hung with one foot in the air and waited.

apparently, I was not too hard to find. No doubt she just looked where every other animal in the world was staring until she found me. I remember seeing her see me, as a bit of surprise, and annoyance appeared on her face. I have no way of knowing what she thought, but I am sure I was not what she expected to find.

My exhilaration and thrill of discovery had instantly vanished, and I remember feeling that I had somehow violated her space in a way most painful. I was a varmint, an uninvited party crasher, a barbarian at the gate. This was her kingdom, and I was far past the edge of my realm. At any rate, I had already exhausted my supply of courage. It was all too much for a young boy on his first expedition from home.

Before she could move or even say a word, I broke and took off like a cannon-shot into the world from which I came. I charged like the fox ahead of the hounds, and I scared the bejeebers out of a lot of birds and little creatures as I crashed headlong through the heavy understory. I don’t remember much about the journey, except that I completed the return trip a lot faster than the first one, and some skin was lost in the process. It took some band aids and a lot of hydrogen peroxide, together with some tender loving care from my mother, to make things right again.

I don’t think I ever told her about my true adventure or the woman in the barnyard. At the time it was far to big to capture and explain within the limited vocabulary of my youth. But, like all mothers, she already knew that I had been somewhere that I should not have been, yet had to be. It was a boy’s adventure, and mine to own, and hold. It is still there, when I need it.

I never did see the woman again. By the time I was old enough to freely wander the neighborhood, she was gone and her farm abandoned like so many across the south of Jersey. I never knew what became of her. I only knew that she was gone, and that somehow a way of life had vanished along with her.

I can still see her standing there in that place, with her animals all around. I wish I could talk to her and come to know a little of her life. I would like to know how long she had lived there, and if she had found herself alone as the homestead fell down around her. If I could, I would ask her if she had raised a family there, and where they had gone. I would ask her if she had raised a young boy or two of her own, and if they had brought her contentment then, and later, in her old age.

Most of all, I would apologize for my intrusion and hope it was not too much of a burden to bear. I would love to explain to her how she has stuck in my mind, and that I have not forgotten her.

Looking back, I wish things remained as simple and true as the bond between a mother hen and her chicks, or a mother and her boy. It would be grand if life was as safe and protective as an undisturbed barnyard, and as comforting as a farm at peace. I think I have hunted and searched for her barnyard ever since.

I will find it one day, somehow. I hope a small, wild child of a boy is just around the corner, and he will find it too.

Michael Patrick McCarty

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It All Falls Down

The Origin and History of The Giant Runt Pigeon

I am currently researching the history of the Giant Runt Pigeon and it’s breeders in The United States. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who raises Runts, or from anyone who has any knowledge of any of their descendents and family members who may have bred and raised them. From what I can gather, they were brought into this country sometime in the 1700’s. Any information or leads you can provide would be greatly appreciated, including any reference included in old books or periodicals that you may be aware of.

In addition, I am also researching the origins of the King Pigeon in the United States. And, last but not least, I am interested in the history of the squab farming industry in New Jersey.

Please send any information to Mike at huntbook1@gmail.com

 

Marauders And Guilty Culprits

Red-Tailed Hawk In Flight

Yesterday my neighbor’s dogs killed several of our cherished chickens, again. I discovered the disquieting scene as I left for work. The story was easy to read in the thick mud, as was the trail leading back to the home of the evil doers.

I feel some responsibility because I had let them roam unprotected for a short time outside of their coop and flyway. On the other hand, it was not my fault at all because the dogs were well within the boundaries of my property. Colorado law clearly states that a dog owner is required to control the whereabouts of his animal so that this type of thing could not happen. A landowner does not have to fence the problem dogs out – the dog owner must fence the dogs in and prevent them from entering someone elses property. An uncontrolled dog can be cited by Animal Control as a “dog at large”. If it kills poultry or livestock, well, that’s a whole other ballgame.

I did not have enough time to deal with the chicken carnage at the time. So today I walked across my field to our bird pens to do just that and came face to face with a magnificent red-tailed hawk. The bird stared at me fiercely as only a raptor can, while deciding if it must abandon the prize. The hawk looked disgruntled, and guilty, as it grudgingly took off. But it needn’t have worried. I knew he had not done it. I left the chicken there, on the ground, for the hawk’s return.

I am sad for the loss of our chickens. They were our best young layers and had the best chicken personalities in our flock. I am happy though that I was able to steal such a close range look at the hawk. I love to observe birds of prey. He’s got to eat too.

I don’t fault the dogs. They were just being dogs, and some will kill chickens if not discouraged. I do have issues with the dog owners, however. They have been consistently disrespectful of our property rights, and have demonstrated little regard for the joys of poultry. They had been warned.

In this case, the marauders and culprits will be dealt with appropriately by the court, as they should. I hope the dogs fare better.

The red-tail is welcome to his dinner. I hope I see him again soon, under better circumstances.

Michael Patrick McCarty

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