Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Backyard Flock: Talkin' chickens

A group of us was gathered around a table at the WYSO Volunteer Appreciation Dinner last night when the talk turned to chickens.

"How come you don't write about the chickens, anymore?" Kay Reimers asked.

"Just lazy, I guess," I replied. "Nothing new has been happening out in Chickenland, lately. Well, except for one thing... We have taken to letting them out in the early evening to eat the grass in the yard. Now, every day shortly before dark, they watch the house even more intently than usual for signs of movement. If one of us gets anywhere near the back door, they all flock to the gate in anticipation of being released."

"They actually watch the house..?" Macy Reynolds asked in disbelief.

"Always." I said.

Then the talk turned to hawks, mink, weasels and other predators, and finally to that little known film genre, the chicken video.

I was telling the group about a video on DVD that Susan Gartner gave me as a present after her recent visit to Madison, Wisconsin. It's a charming documentary titled "Mad City Chickens" about the trials and tribulations of raising a backyard flock in Madison, which only just recently legalized the activity.

"There ought to be a sub-genre of film called the chicken video," Gary Reimers said.

"There already is," I said. "Awhile back PBS showed a video called "The Natural History of the Chicken."

None of them had seen it. So, I went on to tell of some of the vignettes in the video, which is a mix of chicken fact and legend, such as the story of the headless chicken that toured the freak show circuit for months before it finally died; the woman who brought a chicken back to life with CPR; and the bantam chicken that saved her brood from a hawk attack.

Then I remembered that Susan and I had agreed to share the "Mad City Chickens" video with the chicken-lovers of the village. Susan has it now and has agreed to take email requests to borrow it. She can be reached at If you have chickens, are thinking about getting chickens, or are just curious about them, feel free to shoot her an email.

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