By Michael R. Shannon
Normally I don't revisit column topics until a decent interval has passed, but there have been so many feathers flying in poultry news that I'm forced to return to the subject of chickens in Prince William County, VA where I live.
You may recall a group of would-be poultry promoters who are trying to convince the Board of Supervisors here to allow them to run herds of chickens on lots as small as one acre. The column was titled: "Here a Chick, There a Chick, Everywhere a Chick, Chick."
This headline evidently confused some of my readers who are not up to speed on poultry lore. There were complaints that a "chick" was either a comely young woman or a baby bird; and somehow the term was incorrect in a column about mature hens.
My response is to take all complaints to the author of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" because that's where I stole the headline. And while they're at it, those readers might familiarize themselves with the collected works of Foghorn Leghorn.
By now you are no doubt brooding over the question of why would anyone want to keep chickens in the Washington, DC metro area? You can't travel and harbor chickens at home, because there are no chicken boarding coops. And no self-respecting teenager is going to risk his position in the pecking order by hiring out to walk your chickens while you're gone.
So when poultry infrastructure is as scarce as hen's teeth, where's the advantage for the potentate of poultry? Simple, a few hens scratching along the pipestem leading to your home make you special.
Any lame brain can keep a dog and many do. Heck the local PWC newspaper attempts to give dogs away every Friday. Even those really wrinkly dogs, that look like a pile of old socks, are now passé among the beautiful people. But keeping chickens - now that makes you an agri-demonstration project and puts you one up on the lowly canine owner.
According to the latest news, urban hen-punchers are not alone. Chickens appear to be all the rage among trendy, boutique farmers. Some chicken hatcheries are running at full capacity to satisfy the demand.
But status in the world of animal domestication is never one of the reasons given for keeping chickens in a metro area. Usually it's - and I quote one of our leghorn lobbyists - "farm-fresh eggs, there's nothing like it."
But actually there is. Wegmanns fresh eggs; Costco fresh eggs (in the handy 52-dozen container) and Safeway fresh eggs all taste just as good as the eggs that come from the urban-pioneer hen.
This quaint belief a chicken that is considered part of the family and allowed to share the Xbox with the kids, will somehow be so thankful that her eggs will contain that delicate flavor of gratitude is yet another "greenie" fantasy that won't withstand the scientific method.
Greenies believe that commercially produced eggs come from grim factory farms notable only for unspeakable cruelty; and the merchants of misery that own these plants all conspire to make the product taste bad.
None of which is true. In point of fact a food writer for the Washington Post - who owns her own hens and suffers from the delusion that giving a bird its own toothbrush results in tastier eggs - conducted a blind taste test to see if eggs from contented birds had less cholesterol and better flavor.
She matched her high-esteem eggs with the commonplace product from three competitors: a run-of-the-mill grocery store; an "organic" supermarket and finally eggs from a high-end super "organic" store where the hens are owned by PhDs in gender studies.
All the taste-testers were blindfolded, the eggs were cooked identically and each portion was served by a robot to make sure no one was influenced by body language.
Sacre bleu! The results were a devastating blow to back-to-nature fantasists. No one could tell the difference between the eggs. All those hours of letting her chickens watch "Baby Einstein" videos had been wasted. The writer's eggs tasted no different from the product of those ignorant chickens at Legree's Mega Factory Farm. "Organic" eggs tasted just like those suicidally depressed eggs from Safeway.
What's more, an authentic poultry scientist at Auburn University confirmed the results explaining, "people's perception of egg flavor is mostly psychological. When you have them actually taste, there's not enough difference to tell."
So there you have it. Chickens don't respond to human fantasy. The local poultry lobby can climb off the perch at zoning committee hearings and get back to commonly accepted animal pursuits.
Like checking next Friday's issue of the News & Messenger for photos of adorable dogs eager to come to your home, after you dispose of the chicken litter.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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