The Magnificent Chicken
Every morning at 6:45 a.m. I hear the same, familiar sound: “Bagawk!”
“No, ten more minutes,” I tell myself.
“Bagawwk!” I hear three minutes later, this time with more vigor and demand. I know I can’t make the ladies wait much longer, so I drag myself out of my comfortable bed in South Berkeley and ascend my 100 year-old staircase to take care of my chore for the week – chicken duty! It really is my favorite responsibility and it even comes with a 100% au naturel alarm clock! Plus, the trade-off is great: in exchange for my vegetable scraps and some good ol’ tap water, my 7 roommates and I receive fresh, oblong blue, gray and brown eggs. We consider this the chickens’ rent and they are never late on their payment. However, this morning when I arrive to take care of Emily Chickenson, Hawkins, Chip (originally named Nugget) and Raja, I am disappointed to find that the ornery screeching was actually that of the coop residing next door.
This chicken mix-up is a common occurrence in my shady nook of the East Bay and it adds to the mounting evidence of what Tamara Staples, author of The Magnificent Chicken, calls the “arrival of the fancy chicken.” City laws have relaxed allowing for backyard coops and new books and magazines about breeding stay-at-home chickens have popped up. America’s favorite food is quickly becoming our favorite pet.
In The Magnificent Chicken, Staples offers a peek inside some of America’s biggest poultry shows, a world that “few outsiders ever see.” Complete with an opening essay by Ira Glass, the harbinger of all things American, Tamara takes readers through a distinct tour of the beautiful fowl featured in the chicken beauty pageant. Shape, size, color, feather quality and weight are factors to be considered in judging combs, crests, feet and tails and the American Poultry Association judges are required to pass rigorous written tests in order to claim such authority. The birds in The Magnificent Chicken are truly beautiful – they’re the paragon of poultry splendor. With over thirty profiles on the worlds’ best breeds, the book offers an awe-inspiring sight for readers. Staples’ photography is perfectly detailed making even the silliest looking flightless bird look exquisite and regal.
Now, I’m certainly not raising medal-grade poultry, but I am definitely proud of our hens and I would even venture to say they’re like our family (only they live in a coop outside). Each lady has her own personality: Raja is the queen and will always get first pecking, Chip is a wily woman always planning her next escape and Emily and Hawkins prefer to lounge out of sight in the cool shade of our fig tree avoiding all human contact (although they rarely escape my daily cuddle attacks). I was skeptical of joining the backyard chicken craze, but these four poultry princesses have gotten me to consider just how emotionally close one can get to one’s food (the eggs, of course).
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