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Wednesday October 23, 2013

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Recently I read an article that had me guffawing and carefully double-checking its publication date. Nope, it wasn’t the first of April and yes, it really was about people in the UK buying high visibility jackets for hens that stray onto busy roads.

As the owner of a cockerel and a small brood here in rural Majorca, I found it deeply puzzling. After all what kind of bird-brained keeper of poultry living in a built up area would be careless enough to allow his flock to strut off into busy traffic and who in his right mind would invest in a pink or yellow hen jacket priced at £12?

Well, I hang my head in shame. It seems that ‘high vis’ jackets are the thin end of the wedge. There’s a whole industry out there touting hen apparel of the most chic-chicken kind for an ever-hungry public and believe it or not in America chicken diapers are sold in various designs and colours. Even in Britain chicken nappies are available for those kept as pets indoors and woolly jumpers are the vogue for featherless battery hens. All the same, I was informed by an experienced, no nonsense chicken expert that owners of ex-battery hens sometimes mistakenly don them in knitted jerseys thinking it’ll keep them warm. He explained that the hens are usually just moulting post laying season so can overheat with clothing which is why dressing them is not best idea. His view is backed up by other breeders of the old school who argue that having been previously kept in an artificially controlled climate, ex-battery hens often moult when in a natural environment. The birds can also be riddled with ticks so dressing them in sweaters can prove disastrous.

I decided to consult some of my neighbouring farmers on the issue here in Soller and wasn’t hugely surprised by their reaction. Fernando eyed me thoughtfully and with an amused snort asked whether I was being serious. Was this just British humour? Hens wearing jackets and jumpers? As if. At my local hen supply store, Bernat laughed his head off and said he could understand Americans being so daft as to invent chicken diapers, but not the British. He pronounced that it proved how crazy the world was becoming. My nearest neighbour, a natural philosopher who’s reared countless chickens and other livestock on his land, shook his head sadly and declared that it was an indication of how few people truly understood the natural world.

As for the inmates of my own run, there was some debate. Carlos the cockerel rather liked the idea of his harem sprucing themselves up a bit with brightly coloured woollies this winter but the girls gave him a good pecking at the very notion which I suppose just goes to show who really rules the roost.

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