Monday, 26 November 2012

The Chicken or the Egg?

The answer is too obvious, the egg of course, because I have it for breakfast, the chicken is for dinner. The question that worries me more is, how and when we came by our poultry? We are told that they are originally jungle fowl from Asia and SE Asia, OK but we seem to have had them for ever, how did they spread all across Europe in earlier times? There was indeed a cock crowing in the Gospels! However this happened I don’t know, but I’m very glad we have them, not simply for their produce, but also because as animals to keep and care for, they are pretty good as domestic animals go. My Mam used to keep poultry when I was kid and it was my job, before school to take them the mash she’d made up, and collect the eggs. I remember reaching into the nest boxes feeling a warm hens bum as she softly clucked and, yes a lovely warm egg, and she allowed you to take it without demur, my breakfast!

You don’t even need to fence them in, if you have the space they will roam free and eat what they find, even mice, as it grows dark they will come home to roost. As part of my childhood education I was to learn the place in life of such bountiful and friendly little creatures, their purpose is truly fulfilled when they landed on our plate! My mother would involve me in discussions as to who was laying and who wasn’t, and as the chief collector of eggs I was the Judas who would point the finger and betray my little friends. Then she would demonstrate how to wring their necks, pluck and draw them and prepare them for the oven. Many a happy time was spent on a stool, watching all the innards being drawn and being told what each part was and the function it performed, to see the little miracle of the oviduct with a chain of eggs in gradually increasing stages of development, I was a keen student. When she chopped the feet off I would grab them and by yanking the hanging out tendons, I could make the claws grab stuff, and  then run around the house annoying people with them. We didn’t have many toys!

Chicken in those days was a luxury Sunday roast! We kept, I suppose about 20 hens and a cockerel, and raised the odd clutch, so it was an infrequent event to have roast chicken. In fact I was about 13 years old before we had turkey at Christmas prior to that it was always chickens.

At secondary school in the 3rd and 4th years we had a choice of Technical Drawing or Rural Science, the former were for lads earmarked for the factories the latter for lads earmarked for the farm. I, although headed for an apprenticeship in the broad category of engineering, stuck out to do Rural Science for the simple reason I enjoyed it so much, and they kept chucks! I look back now and feel, that if my life has lacked anything at all, it’s the fact that I never felt I had the time or the suitable place to keep hens!

Many people express concern regarding commercial poultry management, I have my concerns too, they need room to roam and peck at the soil. They need to breathe fresh air. They are living creatures, as we are, and a lot of improvements have been made in providing better living conditions for poultry in this country. We owe this to poultry, we have had a mutually beneficent  arrangement with them for thousands of years. They as a species have benefitted, in that not only has the species survived, but there possibly more poultry than people.  Please don’t buy cage eggs, barn eggs are no better. When you buy a whole chicken, look at its scaly leg joint, if it’s got a brown mark or ulcer, please don’t buy it, it hasn’t had room to move, it has been sat, in poo. We can do better for our chucks they deserve it.

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