Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about Chickens.

'.. Aunt Elizabeth, with another of her sardonic chuckles, dived in head-foremost and struggled through in the mysterious way in which birds do get through hedges. The sound of her faint spinster-like snigger came to me as I stood panting.'..

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What do you think of Vancouver's proposal to permit chickens in the city?

Biblitz replies:

Utterly mad and dangerous! Consider:

Love Among the Chickens

By P.G. Wodehouse

A plump young Buff Orpington, a Kentish breed of which the Queen Mother was exceedingly fond.

We had been travelling down hill all this time, but at this point we crossed a road and the ground began to rise. I was in that painful condition which occurs when one has lost one's first wind and has not yet got one's second. I was hotter than I had ever been in my life.

Whether *Aunt Elizabeth, too, was beginning to feel the effects of her run, or whether she did it out of the pure effrontery of her warped and unpleasant nature, I do not know; but she now slowed down to walk, and even began to peck in a tentative manner at the grass. Her behaviour infuriated me. I felt that I was being treated as a cipher. I vowed that this bird should realise yet, even if, as seemed probable, I burst in the process, that it was no light matter to be pursued by J. Garnet, author of "The Manoeuvres of Arthur", etc., a man of whose work so capable a judge as the Peebles Advertiser had said "Shows promise."

A judicious increase of pace brought me within a yard or two of my quarry. But Aunt Elizabeth, apparently distrait, had the situation well in hand. She darted from me with an amused chuckle, and moved off rapidly again up the hill.

I followed, but there was that within me that told me I had shot my bolt. The sun blazed down, concentrating its rays on my back to the exclusion of the surrounding scenery. It seemed to follow me about like a limelight.

We had reached level ground. Aunt Elizabeth had again slowed to a walk, and I was capable of no better pace. Very gradually I closed in. There was a high boxwood hedge in front of us; and, just as I came close enough once more to stake my all on a single grab, Aunt Elizabeth, with another of her sardonic chuckles, dived in head-foremost and struggled through in the mysterious way in which birds do get through hedges. The sound of her faint spinster-like snigger came to me as I stood panting, and roused me like a bugle. The next moment I too had plunged into the hedge. (From Mr. Garnet's Narrative, pgs. 42-43)

*Note: A word about Aunt Elizabeth:

I had wandered into the paddock at the moment. I looked up. Coming towards me at her best pace was a small hen. I recognised her immediately. It was the disagreeable, sardonic-looking bird which Ukridge, on the strength of an alleged similarity of profile to his wife's nearest relative, had christened Aunt Elizabeth. A Bolshevist hen, always at the bottom of any disturbance in the fowl-run, a bird which ate its head off daily at our expense and bit the hands which fed it by resolutely declining to lay a single egg. (-- p. 41)
A momentarily subdued Light Sussex cockerel named Stanley. According to Bantams with a larger counterpart in Country Life Sept. 30/09, p. 57, if anyone cares, 'Developed from the 1920s the Light Sussex is white, with a neck and tail tips of inky black. They're generally good layers of creamy to light brown eggs, and are good foragers.' Well that part is alright, I suppose, but Biblitz parts company with the publication in the sidebar, Keeping bantams, which advises readers to throw caution to the wind: 'Don't be put off by stories of aggression - bantams have real character and make rewarding pets.'

Pure madness, as a certain Bibltiz forebear would attest. His assignments when visiting the family farm each summer included that of Ice Cream Crank Operator, a pleasant, rewarding task, and General Manager, Chickens, which, alas, was not.
A Rhode Island Red hen named Madeline took an immediate dislike to the ancestor in spite of the bounty of succulent grain he attempted to bestow on the creatures each morning. Madeline would have none of him and regularly chased and savaged him painfully about the ankles, occasionally flying at him in the silly way hens have, screaming obscenities. 'Real character,' forsooth! Here, above, are the horrid things, which were kept mercifully behind bars like the insolent, ungrateful criminals they were!

The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks

By Robertson Davies, Marchbanks' alter ego


A dog attempted to end it all under the wheels of a car in which I was riding this afternoon. The suicidal instinct seems to be strong in all dogs, but amounts to an overmastering passion in collies and Airedales. My theory is that dogs go mad from the boredom of being dogs and seek to take their lives as a consequence. The much advertised intelligence of dogs is mythical. A recent article in Saturday Night, written by a scientist, asserts that dogs have even less intelligence than chickens, which is a strong statement. A dog can't begin to compete with a monkey, the writer says, and horses simply laugh at the pretensions of dogs to be sagacious. A pig can learn more tricks than a dog, but has too much sense to want to do it. All this supports my lifelong contention that Man's Dumb Chum is a fraud, and has only wormed his way into the hearts of dog-lovers by undignified self-abasement. The dog is a Yes-animal, very popular with people who can't afford to keep a Yes-man. (From The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks, p. 342)


More of young Stanley and his Light Sussex ilk

A career path for Madeline the Biblitz ancestor would no doubt embrace:

The New York Times Magazine

Vending Machine for Crows

8th Annual Year in Ideas
By Claire Trageser
Dec. 14/08

In June, Josh Klein revealed his master's-thesis project to a flock of crows at the Binghamton Zoo in south-central New York State. The New York University graduate student offered the birds coins and peanuts from a dish attached to a vending machine he d created, then took the peanuts away. Klein designed the machine so that when the crows searched for the missing peanuts, they pushed the coins out of a dish into a slot, causing more peanuts to be released into the dish. The Binghamton crows quickly learned that dropping nickels and dimes into the slot produced peanuts, and the most resourceful members of the flock began looking for more coins. Within a month, Klein had a flock of crows scouring the ground for loose change.

Now Klein is working with graduate students at Cornell University and Binghamton University to study how wild crows make use of his machine. Although his invention might conjure Hitchcock-worthy visions of crows stealing the loose change from pedestrians' pockets and hands, Klein's conception is more benign. To Klein, the machine demonstrates the value of cooperating with "synanthropes" - animals that have adapted seamlessly to human environments. "Rather than just killing off a species, why not see if they can do something useful for us, so we can all live in close proximity?" he said. To pursue his research, he founded the Synanthropy Foundation this year. Someday, he hopes, similar techniques may allow us to train rats to sort our garbage for us.

A word about eggs:

Harrowsmith Country Life

The Golden Egg

By Bridget Wayland
December, 2009

Nutritional studies do suggest (though nothing has been conclusively proven yet) that free-range eggs are healthier. They have more Vitamins A and E than regular eggs and a far better fat profile: less saturated fat and cholesterol; more Omega-3 fatty acids (the "healthy fat" currently thought to be beneficial for brain development and the fight against heart disease, cancer and arthritis.)

The only problem is, "the designation 'free range' has no real meaning," says Laura Telford, national director of Canadian Organic Growers. "Unlike 'organic,' the term is not backed by standards." ...

... Omega-3 eggs are produced by adding fish oil, ground flax seed or canola seed to the feed, producing eggs with eight times more Omega-3 than usual.

Some ... also contain extra lutein, an antioxidant needed for eye health, thanks to extra alfalfa and corn added to the hen's diet. ... (To be labelled organic) ... says Telford. "Laying hens have to be fed an organic diet, can only be treated with drugs from the permitted substances list, and must be raised in appropriate living conditions with access to the outdoors. No battery cages, among other things." (-- p. 26)

Left, a Rhode Island Red closely resembling the dreaded bantam, Madeline. Bibilitz quakes to think of it.

The Chick-ens Fight Back

Pandem-ic Panics and Deadly Diseases that Jump from Animals to Humans

By Dr. David Waltner-Toews

More on Vancouver's recent proposal to allow chickens in the city even in tiny, close-quarter condos and co-ops.

More of the book.
The Zoroastrians praised cocks for driving out the devils of night and guarding the household. From Persia, the birds invaded both northern Africa and Europe. Although the "rosy-fingered Dawn" Homer described in The Odyssey was not accompanied by cockcrows, Aeschylus (late in the fifth century BC) has Athena (in the play The Eumenides) warning the Greeks that civil war is like cockfighting, an image (fierce, small-brained, beautiful birds passionately slashing each other to death) that some of us would extend to war in general, although cockfighting itself has perhaps more to recommend it.
The Romans used live chickens for augurs; if the birds eagerly ate food thrown to them, things would go well. If not, this was a poor omen. As might be expected, the chickens were kept underfed until omen-reading time came around. During a 249 BC battle against the Carthaginians at Drepana, in what is now western Sicily, the Roman consul P. Claudius Pulcher threw the sacred chickens overboard when they refused to eat, saying, "If they will not eat, let them drink." Later the same day, the Carthaginians sank 93 of the consul's 123 ships. The consul was promptly recalled and forced to pay a large fine. One could draw a lesson from this event, but it would be premature for me to pronounce omens so early in this story. (-- p. 100)


According to Country Life, 'Named after the French town where it was bred, the Maran (above) has cuckoo coloring ranging from dark grey to silver, lays beautiful brown eggs and is well known for its laziness.' This last feature the Biblitz forebear would have found amply suitable.

New Scien-tist

Deadly H5N1 may be brew-ing in cats

We have been spared a flu pandemic because the H5N1 virus is not very infectious. That could soon change.

By Debora Mackenzie
Jan. 27/07

Bird flu, not to be mistaken for the H1N1 Swine Flu.

Bird flu hasn't gone away. The discovery, announced last week that the H5N1 bird flu virus is widespread in cats in locations across Indonesia has refocused attention on the danger that the deadly virus could be mutating into a form that can infect humans far more easily.

In the first survey of its kind, an Indonesian scientist (Chairul Anwar Nidom of Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia) has found that in areas where there have been outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and humans, one in five cats have been infected with the virus, and survived. This suggests that as outbreaks continue to flare across Asia and Africa, H5N1 will have vastly more opportunities to adapt to mammals than had been supposed.

... Infected cats may not directly increase the danger of people catching the virus, as humans seem to catch the current strain only with difficulty even from birds, which they kill, pluck and eat. The main worry, says (Albert) Osterhaus (of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands), is that as the virus replicates in cats it will further adapt to mammals and acquire the ability to spread more efficiently to people and from person to person, unleashing a human pandemic.

... Killing cats won't solve the problem, Osterhaus warns. Like shooting wild birds, it is unlikely to have much impact and could send infected animals elsewhere. It would also lead to a population explosion of disease-carrying rodents, which the cats normally keep in check.

"Cats must just be kept from eating sick chickens," Osterhaus says, though this will be a tall order in open-air markets across Asia and Africa, which are typically swarming with hungry cats. In Jakarta this week, officals are slaughtering thousands of banned backyard poultry - then handing them back for their owners to eat. Some of the birds could well be infected despite appearing healthy. It is hard to imagine the local cats not getting their share. (-- pgs. 6-7)

chickenRhodeIslandRed chickenRhodeIslandRed

Country Life

All hail the Lord of the Wrings

My week: Jonathan Self
June 11/08

chickens Sally, a former model who married a farmer, is the sort of person who can spend an hour in a muddy field tagging calves wearing her best frock and come out looking spotless. She can despatch a chicken and prepare it for the pot with such speed, efficiency and grace that I always felt it would be pointless to try and emulate her. This week, however, Sally decided that her days as our family butcher were over. With the injunction that I should 'stop being a pathetic worm', she set about instructing me in the far-from-gentle art of chicken neck-wringing.

It's one thing to watch someone else scoop a bird out of the henhouse, hold it firmly by its feet, grab it by the neck just below the head, pull and twist until there's a snapping sound, and quite another to do it oneself. Also, and this is something I had never focused on before, it's rather unnerving when the chicken continues to flap its wings after it's dead. If it actually is dead. My first three attempts were dismal failures, and Sally had to finish them off for me. It wasn't until chicken number four that I came close to becoming, in Jack's words, 'Lord of the Wrings.' My scalding and plucking were more satisfactory, but the less said about my evisceration techniques, the better. (-- p. 71)

Battery-hen boost
A new vitamin-rich feed has been developed to help battery hens recover from their commercial egg-laying life. The Battery Hen Welfare Trust, which has re-homed 120,000 birds, and Allen and Page's Smallholder Range have produced the Ex-Bats Range, which is launched this week; for each bag sold, a donation will go to the BHWT ( (From New in brief, Country Life, Feb. 18/09, p. 25)

Art and Nature

An Il-lustrated Anthol-ogy of Nature Poetry

Metropol-itan Museum of Art
Selected by Kate Farrell

To a Prize Bird

You suit me well, for you can make me laugh,
nor are you blinded by the chaff
that every wind sends spinning from the rick.

You know to think, and what you think you speak
with much of Samson's pride and bleak
finality, and none dare bid you stop.

Pride sits you well, so strut, colossal bird.
No barnyard makes you look absurd;
your brazen claws are staunch against defeat.

Marianne Moore, American, 1887, 1887-1972
(-- p. 111, adjacent to Woman with a Parrot. Edouard Manet, French, 1832-1883. Oil on canvas, 1866.)


Chicken Marans, where are you off to? Come back here, chicken Marans! This is not what was meant by 'free range.'

The New York Times Magazine

Nature, Nuisance or Worse?

An urbanite reflects on the wild animals in her neighborhood

By Peggy Orenstein
Dec. 7/08

turkey90 There was a turkey on my neighbors' roof. Not the kind wrapped in plastic found in your grocer's freezer, but a live 20-pounder pecking at the grain my neighbors had scattered there. This wasn't the first gobbler I had seen at the outer reaches of Berkeley, Calif., just blocks from where the city tumbles into a 2,000-acre regional park. And I have to admit, initially I was charmed. Turkeys! In Berkeley! How quaint! How colonial! Isn t this communion with nature the very reason we moved to the hills? ...

It's only a matter of time before the turkeys complete the circuit from novelty to nuisance. Until they become like the deer who ate $300 worth of landscaping. Or the geese who have turned jogging around a nearby lake into a trip through a sewer. Or worse: in October a raccoon slid open a screen door of a house across the street, jumped up on the bed where my neighbor was napping with her newborn son and bit her. Although we haven t had the rabies outbreaks that are common in the East, the nursing mother had to endure a series of injections just in case.

Am I alarmist? Not according to Justin Brashares, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of California at Berkeley (who admitted to trying to kick a raccoon after it snatched a marshmallow from his 4-year-old son's hand during a backyard barbecue). "What happens if these thousands of Canada geese become carriers of an avian flu that moves to people?" he asked. As for surburbanized turkeys, he said, during mating season, the testosterone-pumped males, with up to two-inch spurs on their legs, will "attack anything that moves." Cats. Bicyclists. My kid. (-- p. 11)

Update June, 2010:
No, cool heads did not prevail. Vancou-ver, too, now has urban chickens among its swooning menagerie of temporary pet-slaves the locals will soon torture in all the predictable ways. Here's what the City has proposed:

Backyard Chickens
In March 2009, City Council instructed staff to develop policy guidelines for the keeping of backyard chickens in Vancouver. In June of 2010, these guidelines were enacted as amendments to the Animal Control Bylaw and Zoning and Development Bylaw. Subject to following the approved bylaws and regulations, Vancouverites are now able to keep backyard hens!

The City's backyard hen regulations focus on protecting the health and welfare of citizens and ensuring the humane treatment of backyard hens. They are also another way for residents of the city to participate in the local food system. ... With the approval of the new bylaws and regulations, responsibility for the backyard hens is now located within the City's Animal Control services. To register your backyard hens, or to find out about the process of keeping urban chickens, please visit their webpage.

We'll see.