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8.19.2004

Freedom Chickens

My family and I own seven chickens. They are different breeds, colors and personalities. We got eight of them at easter time when they were just a few weeks old. We cared for them, nurtured them, watched them grow and sadly watched one die. We built them a pen and put the young chicks inside. The coop was not great (I built it myself) but it was reasonably strong, protected them from the elements and gave them room to walk around during the day.

After they had reached maturity, I began to feel bad about the conditions the chickens lived in. They still got plenty of food and fresh water. They also received daily treats of corn on the cob, tomatoes, cucumbers and other luxury chicken food. They probably had better quality of life than most other chickens in the world. They had eaten all of the fresh grass on the ground and tried to reach the grass that grew outside the coop but were blocked by the wire which kept them safe.

But, we reasoned, there were dogs, raccoons, opossum, skunks, hawks, snakes and all sort of other dangerous critters that would kill our chickens if given the opportunity. They are out there. We have seen them. We were keeping them safe from the evil creatures who wished them harm. There is no higher calling than protecting the creatures you are responsible for.

I began to ask people, "If you were a chicken, would you rather live in a secure environment that limited your freedom or a riskier environment in which you got to explore and live life to the fullest?". The answer was unanimous. Let your chickens go.

So we did. It has been a little over a month now. We still have all 7 chickens. They are free to roam, explore, run, eat strange and wonderful things, follow their own path, and sometimes even fly. We take reasonable precautions and are vigilant to any growing threat. We will still protect them (we love our chickens)from anything that wishes them harm. We still lock up their coop at night (where they return every evening of their own accord) but most of their lives are spent exploring the wonderful possibilities of freedom.

We know we will eventually lose some, we can't protect them from every known and unknown danger no matter what we do, and when that day comes, we will be saddened and angry at whatever gets them. There will probably be retribution if we can identify, without any doubt, whatever is responsible. The hard part, at that point, will be giving the remaining "girls" the freedoms to which they have become accustomed, but we will.

There are millions of chickens who live in the extreme safety of commercial production facilities. They are crammed together in wire cages, inside metal building, on secure grounds. They have people whose only priority is to keep them alive for as long as possible. They are given massive doses of drugs to ward off diseases and are kept in bright lighted conditions 24 hours a day, so their owners can see them and watch for signs of illness. The produce more eggs and meat than my little flock ever could and they are completely safe, secure and controlled. Not one of those chickens will ever have to go through the terror of being attacked and killed by a wild predator. Ironically, their stress levels, induced by the very confinement that keeps them safe, greatly shorten their lifespans.

A great man once said, "Give me liberty or give me death", but I wonder if a more appropriate statement would be, "Give me liberty and I will assume the risk of death,". A moderately safe but completely restricted life is no alternative to the thrilling, life affirming and sometimes dangerous thrill of freedom, chicken or not.

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