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Flustered by feathered “friends”

It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The kind of morning when you wake momentarily before realizing that you don’t have to stumble in the dark to shower, get dressed and head out to work at an ungodly hour. But before you can stretch out and relish the extra time for sleep, a shriek pierces the semi-darkness and what had been a blessed silence a moment before.

What I heard that Sunday morning, then Monday afternoon, then on and off at twenty minute intervals most of Tuesday, and for months on end, was most definitely not a “myth” as Ms. Steele would lead you to believe in her recent article in the Davis Enterprise, titled, “8 common myths about raising chickens” (April 14).

“…chickens are pretty quiet” she claims. Then tell me please, why am I up before the sun, reaching for my boots so I can pull them up over my pajama pants, so I can dash out into the dimness of my garden to find the source of the shrieking, certain that one of our neighbors has come to an untimely end? Why must I resort to closing windows on a beautiful afternoon, depriving myself of fresh air because the chickens next door sound like they’re being strangled?

“Despite what you might have heard…” says Steele. In other words, don’t believe what people who have experienced otherwise have told you. But I am one of those who have experienced otherwise and let me tell you, the sounds chickens are capable of making are far from idyllic, and not remotely associated with the pastoral images the uninitiated among you may have imagined. In fact, I saw the look of bewilderment pass across police chief Darren Pytel’s face as he stood in our living room, listening to the recording of said chickens one afternoon. Hearing was indeed believing, and yes. It had gotten that bad. We were surrounded, on all three sides of our home, by chickens.

This poultry expert continues describing the sounds of fowl as being “a lot quieter” than the sounds of  lawn mowers or car alarms, both of which can indeed be intrusive yet are temporary and necessary in the first case (unless you’ve got a goat to take care of that lawn),and quite infrequent in the latter, and both sounds one should expect to hear on occasion within city limits. CITY sounds. Steele also claims that the noise emanating from chickens is “on par with normal human conversation” – if by normal she means incessant chatter which at any moment verges on the hysterical, then yes, she’s spot on.

And what may be the cause of such alarm in our feathered “friends”? If you believe Ms. Steele who I am certain most sincerely hopes that you do, then there should not be any threat which their very presence attracts.  In which case perhaps this expert would like to explain the numerous decapitated chickens in our immediate vicinity? The ones who clearly attracted a pair of eager raccoons no trace of which had been seen prior to the arrival of the fowl and certainly not after they accomplished their murderous mission? Better yet, I would have liked to see her explain the assassination to the tearful children who had found the decapitated carcasses of the pets they had named.

The closest she comes to admitting that owners of farm animals should be held accountable for their pets is by saying that “a certain level of responsibility” is “required to properly care for any living animal.” She assures prospective investors that the “time commitment is fairly minimal…” Yet she has neglected to mention that these creatures should be inside their coops, not wandering through people’s gardens, strolling down sidewalks, leaving mounds of white goopy messes (as Steele puts it, “natural garden fertilizer”) on neighbors’ front porches. And while she may indeed be correct that chickens lay eggs “regardless of whether there is a rooster in the flock,” she neglects to mention that owning said rooster within city limits is against the law. She also does not mention that unlike dogs which can be brought indoors when their owners have left for work, chicken owners leave for hours on end and expect the neighbors to simply deal with untended animals as we try to read our books, grade our papers, watch a movie, without the incessant background noise of animals which belong on farms, not in backyards of houses which are in close proximity to other  houses in which live city folk who prefer their eggs by the dozen from a shelf at the local Safeway.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the charm of walking out your back door and returning with a fresh egg or two for your breakfast omelet. I am not so completely citified that I cannot appreciate that time of year when my salad consists of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers harvested from my own garden. But as far as I know, none of the above ingredients is likely to rouse anyone from their slumber by shrieking bloody murder because it hasn’t been fed or watered, or because the shadow of a soaring hawk has sent it into paroxysms of fear.

So before Ms. Steele referred to anything as a “myth,” it would have served her well to do her homework and cover all bases. Not that I don’t understand her motivation in writing her article. After all, she stands to gain from converting the nonbelievers among you as she plugs her own brand and her books about what else?….chickens. I am fully aware that I may be among the minority who prefer their chicken roasted rather than roosting under my bedroom window, and I realize that Davisites won’t run out and get rid of their coops just because I shared my unpleasant experiences. What this all really boils down to is being considerate. Whatever your hobby, pastime or passion may be, whether you have dogs or chickens, remember that it stops being charming once it affects someone else’s quality of life.




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