Movie-Star Chickens, Adjusting to Farm Life

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

The three hens, all White Leghorns, were starlets in an "indie" movie. After the chicken scene wrapped up, the producers showed up at our farm with the "washed up" extras. No second casting call for them, apparently. The people said that the hens had laid an egg or two, but perhaps that was not a judgment on their acting performances, but simply an assertion that they were ready for an alternative career.

It was not disclosed to me whether or not the damsels' morals had been compromised by their Hollywood experience, and while I couldn't help but wonder what they had to do to get the roles, the operational information for me was that the snow-white hens were young, looked healthy, and were bearing eggs. White Leghorns, deserving of the honor of being named the official bird of the United States of America, if only for their sheer numbers, are perhaps the most productive, year-round laying hens. Their white eggs fill shelves of every grocery store everywhere.

One of the Starlets thinks she is absolutely a star, and too cool to hang out all day long in the run.

Generally relegated to huge barns stuffed with thousands of small cramped cages, these three, miraculously, had been saved for the backyard flock trade (perhaps they showed talent early), and so they had intact beaks. Industrial laying hens get the debeaking treatment as chicks. Obviously, sharp instruments can't be allowed in commercial cages crowded with stressed-out hens.

Beaks, as you can imagine, are very important, strong tools for chickens to have. More than simply lips, they are their teeth, hands, forks, and tweezers as well. With them, they can pick up the teensiest bit of grit, reduce a broccoli leaf to the stem and ribs, a watermelon to the thinnest green rind, and groom themselves or their friends with surgical preciseness.

I like my hens to have beaks, and these did, so of course I welcomed the comely creatures into the hen house.

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

But always, even with the wonderful accoutrements of our hen house and run--shade and sun, room to roam, organic feed, delivered greens and veggies, and many nest boxes from which to choose--one of the Starlets thinks she is absolutely a star, and too cool to hang out all day long in the run. While the other two sit side by side under the afternoon shade of a box elder tree, she climbs a nearby leaning tree, jumps to the top of the Hen House's wire roof, trots across it and flies to the ground outside. Alternately, she hurries to the gate in the morning when I am letting out two other pets (Tootie J. Tootums and Delilah), and squeezes through the gate with them. Her goal is to get at the field greens personally and secure a secret nest in the barn in which to lay her egg.

But, exiting the Hen House is the easy part for the Starlet. Later in the day, she is as eager as Tootie J. and Delilah to beg me to open the gate and let her in for a spot of grain. Even movie starlets like their (pop) corn.

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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