Email from America 3: the rural dream, and bloodstained reality
A decade ago, our second son had just been born and I was settling quietly into middle age. My wife had other ideas, and decided that we should move to the country. We bought 9 acres with a house and a barn, our own well and sewage system, and neighbours who leave us in peace. We cut our own wood for winter heat, breed goats for meat and milk … and raise chickens.
It started innocently enough with a call from the main post office on a Saturday afternoon, letting us know that we could pick up a package of live animals. What we got was a small cardboard box, stuffed with 50 fluffy chicks. We cooed over them, moved my car out, and installed them with a heat lamp in the garage. Within a month, they had some real feathers, and looked like badly-dressed inner-city schoolboys. One more month, and they were fully-fledged chavs – pushing, pecking, shoving, and occasionally killing each other.They were so nasty that I didn’t feel really guilty when we drove them to the processor. They returned neatly wrapped and ready for the freezer, costing only 2-3 times what our local supermarket would charge. But they tasted better, or so we told ourselves.
We are now 8 years into our hobby, and have learned a lot. For example, give a rooster 10 hens, and he will hump and torment all of them. Put 20 hens with two roosters, and the dominant one will fight the other for all of them. It isn’t just the males. Remove all roosters, and one hen will take over, like a bad lesbian prison movie. It is distressingly human.With selective breeding, we now have roosters who will defend their hens, but (usually) not attack people. In our microcosm of social engineering experiments, that may be the best that we can do. At the very least, it has given our children an appreciation for the convenience of grocery stores, and survival skills that rival those of an Eagle Scout.
Tim is a math professor in Ohio.
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