The Big Issue : Edition 557
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 9–22 MAR 2018 13 YOU CAN TELL when a chicken is sick. It goes limp, stops being chickeny. Healthy chooks bustle. They have a lot of Very Important Chicken Business to attend to, be it stealing food from other chickens, digging up the grass, interrogating the shrubbery, sunbaking, dust-bathing, enforcing the pecking order, or getting under my feet because there’s a 40 per cent chance of treats. They’re in constant action because they’re prey animals. It’s in their interests to be alert and bumptious. Cats and humans, by contrast, can lounge all we like. We’re apex predators, yo. I’m three flocks in now (wiped out twice by Ms Fox), and I know an ailing chook when I see one. Shoulders hunched, solitary, off their food, miserable, motionless, listening to Morrissey. It’s never a good sign. Chickens, being defenceless and universally tasty, are adept at faking health to avoid being eaten, so they’re usually a beak’s width from death once their symptoms are obvious. They pretend to perk up when you’re watching, start pecking around, being all “I’m fine, look at me go, it’s just a flesh wound”. Ten minutes later, they’ve carked it. Chickens would make terrible soccer players; they never take a dive. We have a sick chook in the back room right now. Val. She’s a teenager, a three-month-old “blue” Rosecomb bantam (“blue” means grey in the world of stupid chicken colour terms). This is not her first rodeo. Val knocked on death’s door as a chick, or at least camped on death’s nature strip, a small ashen fluffy ball of woe with a gasping respiratory ailment who peeped so sadly for her mum that I carried her around for days in a soft towel. I didn’t wanthertodieonherown.Yes,Iama raging sook, thanks for noticing. I had a bob each way with her name, as it takes an actual chicken sexer to sex baby chickens and they’ve not offered that course at the local CAE. “Valiant” for » Fiona Scott-Norman (@FScottNorman) is a writer and comedian who’s top of the pecking order. FIONA Play Chicken “Chickens, being defenceless and universally tasty, are adept at faking health to avoid being eaten.” a boy, “Valerie” for a girl. Something for the gravestone. Why not? I recently visited Ernest Hemingway’s house in Cuba, and he had a little bespoke cemetery for his dogs, who were mostly named after variations on “Negro”. Pick another colour dog, Ernest. We plied Val with meal worms and antibiotics, body warmth and water through a pipette, and after a week she was back with the flock totally being a chicken and pretending we’d never met in her life. And now she’s ill again. Or, drum roll, is she? It’s anthropomorphism gone wild to accuse a chicken of making shit up, but I watched a clip last week of a hen faking death to avoid a rooster’s “attention”, so anything’s possible. Since she was brought inside, Val’s staged a startling recovery. Bright eyed, firm pooped, munching down on meal worms, perching on my shoulder while I work, balancing on the computer monitor, preening (aka making sure her feathers be just so). I smell a rat. But now she’s up close I see that her tail is ragged. And last week I saw her brother warn her off food, excising her from the flock. There’s also a violent battle for top chook currently raging in the coop (I’m looking at you, Violet and Priscilla), and the penny dropped. Val’s not sick, she’s being bullied. She’s been depressed. #Morrissey. And I think she’s making a spirited bid to be a house chicken. Obviously I’m daydreaming about our future together, doodling our names and hearts on my ring binder. You can buy chicken nappies online. All I have to do is train Harry my three-legged cat to not hunt her, even though he’s a convicted chick killer and greasy chicken pervert who lurks in the grass outside the coop and watches the girls like it’s a $1 peep show at Crazy Horse. No wonder she wants to be inside.