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Chooks

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My mum's chooks.

My mum's chooks.

When did you last spend quality time with a chicken?

I don't mean a roast chicken or crumbed nuggets or even an afternoon watching Foghorn Leghorn cartoons, smoking happy cigarettes. I refer instead to a clucking, unplucked, living chook.

If you're like most urban dwellers, it's probably been a while since you ran your fingers through some feathers because it's tough work billeting a chicken in a two-bedroom flat with no car space, let alone room for a coop.

This is a shame because I reckon if we all had chooks, there'd be a little less aggression in the world, a little less sadness and an understanding of the circle of life beyond Lion King songs.

Any kid who grows up on a farm or in the bush knows this cycle: from egg to chick to hen to the dinner table to the soup pot to the scraps bin, back to the chicken coop - and it teaches most a respect for the realities of food production and a distaste for waste.

However, not all chickens end up in an oven; some live out their lives pecking peacefully at the dirt, pooping where they will and nattering to owners like my mum.

My mother's going through a tough time, nursing my beloved stepfather through the final stages of terminal cancer, but I know she manages to derive moments of joy from her five ISA Brown chooks.

"They're very calming," she says, "I don't know what it is, but you just have to sit and watch them for a while and it relaxes you."

My grandfather speculated this was because chooks are so stupid and, while observing their spasmodic idiocy does make you feel wondrously intelligent, I don't believe chooks are dumb.

Geniuses they are not, but they still have something approaching intellect because they can spend days watching you come and go from their enclosure, hatching an escape plan like captured RAF flyers imprisoned at Colditz.

Then one day you'll drop your guard and find them on the roof of your house, looking very pleased with themselves and you're the idiot, slipping on roof tiles, yelling foulness at a fowl.

There are many other great points about chickens including the fact they follow you around once they get to know you, children absolutely love them, and it feels good knowing your chooks will never be mistreated like so many are.

However, perhaps their greatest gift is how they keep you in the moment.

When you watch a chicken you see a creature totally unconcerned with the past or the future, simply the worm you've unearthed for them while digging a veggie bed in the backyard.

By attuning yourself to the chicken, you empty your mind of the clutter of what has been and what will come.

I know people with dogs and cats who feel the same way; their pets simplify and lighten life by nuzzling them or going ape-shit when they turn on the vacuum cleaner.

For my money, however, chickens are one step ahead because, as well as depositing glistening poop for you to clean up, they also leave you beautiful, fresh eggs for breakfast.

And lest you need more convincing, stop to think of the dozens of chicken sayings - from "counting your chickens", to the old "chicken and egg" story, to "rooster one day, feather duster the next".

Chickens have always had a profound effect on humans and have been at the epicentre of life's teachings for thousands of years, which is why I strongly recommend you spend some time with one next time you get a chance.

Just relax, let the chicken drive the conversation but don't get too attached.

The oven awaits.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

37 comments so far

  • "empty your mind of the clutter of what has been and what will come"....... well chooks are better than alcohol or drugs or running away or this or that or the worst feeling.

    Not better than people who care and show it but that just isn't enough while waiting for what will come. Chooks aren't there at night while you wait to fall asleep.

    Whilst time helps with the past the problem then with time is that it propels you towards the future. Waiting for what will come is drawing nearer. It comes, then goes, then time is of help again.

    It's awful for you all, so sorry.

    Commenter
    Roast chicken.
    Date and time
    October 04, 2011, 6:47PM
    • The oven or the fox. Loved growing up with chook and that was in a suburban Sydney back yard. My mother treated 'em like royalty and even the cats didnt !@#$ with them. Unfortunately the foxes did and it became too tough keeping alive.

      Commenter
      boman
      Location
      singapore
      Date and time
      October 04, 2011, 7:17PM
      • there is approximately one chicken for every human on the planet at most times.

        Commenter
        switchflicker
        Location
        negligible
        Date and time
        October 04, 2011, 8:15PM
        • There are 2 bulls in the upper paddock, Bill is the younger bull full of fire with youth on his side. Whilst Ben is nearly past his prime, but experienced in his lot in life.

          The Bill runs up to Ben frothing at the mouth and states
          "Hey there are cows in the lower paddock, we should run down there and f*@k the crap out of one of them"

          Ben looked Bill up and done and replied
          "Why don't we walk down there and f*@k all of them?"

          Morale of the story?
          The chicken may have wanted to cross the road... the Bulls wanted sex...

          Commenter
          Dadevilish1
          Date and time
          October 04, 2011, 8:17PM
          • Chooks. Low maintenance, will eat anything and fresh soft boiled eggs of a morning with toast cut in little pieces to dip in the yoke. Memories of growing up in the 70's.

            Commenter
            kermit the log
            Location
            sydney
            Date and time
            October 04, 2011, 9:36PM
            • My experience relates to the death and processing of chooks in the farmyard sense. We used to visit and stay with cousins on a farm on the North Coast. One cousin had a pet chook which he could make go to sleep by lying it down on its back.
              We would collect eggs in the morning avoiding the rooster who would sometimes have a go at you.
              They not only had chooks, but ducks, turkeys and geese.
              The day came for the killing of the birds. In the large yard wires were strung across overhead, drums of water were put onto timber and charcoal fires and brought to the boil. Chairs were brought out and placed, rope in loops were set out. The sharpened axe was brought out and laid beside a piece of new tree trunk carefully cut and stood upright half way along one of the overhead wires.
              The Uncle and the older cousins began to gather the birds carrying them to the wires and using the looped rope to tie their feet and hang them upside down from the wires.
              The dogs were tied up well away from the scene.
              The birds were slid along the wire upside down to the block, their necks resting on the block before their heads were cut with a quick chop. The birds flapping and blood flowing from the neck was pushed along the wire.
              The women and the cousins picked the birds off the wire when they were almost still and plunged into the boiling water and pulled quickly out.
              The women and some of us children then began pulling the feathers out.

              Commenter
              The Old Guy
              Location
              Marrickville
              Date and time
              October 04, 2011, 10:18PM
              • I grew up with chooks lambs calves etc it was a good way to grow up. I had a pet lamb that I bottle fed and we kept her for years and just let it be part of the scenery and years later she still knew who I was which was nice.
                My brother still has chickens but now he breeds champion birds for people who enter them in shows. Not everyone's cup of tea but he has done it for about 40 years and seems to enjoy them.
                Sorry to hear about your step-father, my dad had cancer too, nasty business watching someone with cancer, but at the same time some of the best conversations we had were in the middle of the night while he was sick. Those moments were priceless

                Commenter
                two-minds
                Date and time
                October 05, 2011, 12:25AM
                • That was a pleasant and thought-provoking article, Sam.

                  Thanks again and keep up the good work :)

                  Commenter
                  Black and Blue Man
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  October 05, 2011, 2:19AM
                  • Great article, very nostalgic. I grew up with chickens and chasing them as a kid was so fun as they were faster than me, collecting eggs and stepping in poop barefoot in the grass in summer makes the best memories. You can learn alot from chickens; their own order of things..rooster and hens in a group. Like a small community. Again, thanks for such a nice article. If only more people grew up with these momories and attitudes to chickens, maybe they could lean something.

                    Commenter
                    Rose
                    Location
                    Hawkesbury
                    Date and time
                    October 05, 2011, 4:19AM
                    • How sad. My sympathies to you all.

                      I love chickens because I love eggs.

                      A random hug from a disadvantaged and seemingly distrustful child also sets the world back on its axis. I find.

                      Commenter
                      tba
                      Date and time
                      October 05, 2011, 8:13AM

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