Catherine Lawrence, G14 Peace Corps Volunteer
Separate from eating chickens, I just LOVE watching the chickens in the garden here on my mountain. I have lost count as to how many chickens we have here at my house. They are really beautiful. The colors are just vibrant and each chicken is so different from the next. Just about every day the chickens get to run around outside the cage. I know this may be dull reading to you, my reader; but, it is truly fascinating for me to watch them. I see that when the chicken finds food they run away and hide so as not to have to share it with the others. They often hide under a large bush so as not to be seen and often times it looks like they are playing hide and seek. I watch as they use their beaks to tear apart what they have found and then go out and search for more. I sometimes place little pieces of fruit on the ground in the hopes that they will find and eat it. The mother chicken is often tied to the cage by a rope attached to her leg. When she is tied to the cage the little chickens don't go very far from her; but, often times I watch the mother chicken take food away from the little ones if she can manage it.
When a loud noise is heard they run away literally like chickens without a head, often times running in circles (you see what I do for amusement!). Sometimes they leave the garden and go out onto the road; but, they always find the way back to the garden. I think the family has only lost one chicken and to me that is amazing. They also fall into buckets of muck that are earmarked for the pig. I had the experience of trying to get a flapping chicken out of the muck by using a stick (that I had hoped he/she would latch onto -- I went to Graduate School for this - HA). I ended up with muck all over me (muck - that is pig food); but the chicken did get out finally. I watch as they frantically run for cover if it starts to rain. I guess they don't like water; but, they do find water to drink in the most unusual places in the garden. They run on the porch and under my chair as I sit reading and only seem to be afraid of me if I move or get up. They poop on the porch a lot; but since poop is not a taboo subject here in Georgia we all take the "gifts" that they leave us in stride and reach for the broom!
Alas, as much as I treasure my relationship with the chickens ultimately their purpose in life is to provide food for us. Here in Georgia, at least in my experience on my mountain, chickens romp around the garden forging for anything on the ground that they can eat. They are scavengers; but, they also get corn when it is available. However, really in the end they don't get enough food because they are just skinny. Really more than skinny, they are Anorexic. They run around for hours searching for food; so, in my mind that running around for food exercise program would displace any weight gain they would find in food. I marvel at how little meat is on the chicken when it is finally cooked and placed on the table. Of course, I cannot measure the amount; but trust me, it is not much. The chickens do seem to grow in height over time. This fact surprises me that the growth does not translate into meat on the bones.
It may be a blessing that there is so little meat on the chicken as the meat can be compared to shoe leather, seriously. The meat is so stringy and hard to chew. I fear for my teeth when I bite into the meat; so, most time I pull the meat from the bones before I eat it. I have watched others do that also; so, I watch and learn. The whole chicken is cooked in the frying pan. It is cooked in oil with high heat and covered so that the oil does not splash. The cooking time varies in length; and possibly this may be a reason for the "toughness" of the meat, over cooked -- however, at times I do see redness near the bones. Once ready the chicken is cut up using tools such as sheers or pliers (that have been brought in from the garden) and then the chicken pieces are placed on the table, usually four pieces of chicken at a time.
In keeping with nothing is wasted in Georgia; the feathers are saved when a chicken meets its maker and used to stuff pillows. I have not witnessed how the feathers are removed from the chicken; however, I have watched as once most of the feathers are removed the chicken is placed over the flame on the stove to burn off any remaining feathers. Seriously, this is a new experience for me to get up close and personal to my food before I eat it. I try not to be in the room when this happens.
In the end I wish the chickens would not be used for food as they bring way more pleasure to me when they are alive and running around here on my mountain. I sit on the porch and listen for the chirping that never seems to cease. I wonder what they are talking (chirping) about and I am thankful that they don't realize how short their lives will be. I could never have imagined how chickens would impact my life here in Georgia; just another new experience for me to take pleasure in.