The Most Asked Question

By Phyllis Odessey

We only have  “girls” at our farm.  When we tell the kids that come to The Learning Garden that all our chickens are girls;  they wonder why.  We can answer that one.  New York City does not allow roosters.

When we tell kids that the chicks arrived by mail when they were one day old, they are perturbed.  There are no smiles.  Inquiring minds what to know:  Where is the Mommy?  And how do the chicks feel about not having their mama with them?

The easy answer is that Nick Storrs, our Urban Farmer, is the mommy and daddy to all the chicks, but this really doesn’t answer the question.  Do the chicks know or care that they are on their own?

“It was a beautiful day to be a free range chicken.  Mom toured her chicks around the yard and barn and gave them lessons in eating from the chicken feeder and scratching in the dirt.  She would demonstrate; they would imitate her.  It is so much more satisfyng to see chicks being raised by their mother than watching 50 mail-order chicks chaotically scampering in a pen.”  Squash Blossom Farm

I usually go to Google when such a difficult question presents itself.  Sonja Bolle of the LA Times wrote an  article called Cluck, cluck buh-cawk!

“Among children’s book enthusiasts, there are passionate collectors of chicken books. What is it about chickens? I wondered as I looked at the new crop of children’s books.  What do chickens represent?  Do chickens have personalities?…

Motherliness is the chickenly quality that drew the attention of Garth Williams, who started his children’s book career illustrating E.B. White’s “Stuart Little” in 1943. In “The Chicken Book” (1946), he uses an irresistible rhyme pattern to show how the mother hen teaches her chicks to fend for themselves: “Said the third little chicken, with a sharp little squeal, ‘I wish I could find some nice yellow meal.’ . . . ‘Now see here,’ said the mother, from the green garden patch, ‘If you want any breakfast, just come here and scratch!’ “

After substantial research, I still don’t know if chickens are scarred for life by being shipped off at one-day old.  I haven’t found the answer.  I believe our childhoods are made up of books about all kinds of animals that talk and have feelings.  We assume chickens are part of this group.  The only answer I can give to our students is that sisterhood is powerful and that makes up for a lot.

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