When honorable-son-in-business-school first asked me if we would be fitting our chickens with contact lenses, I laughed, and very wittily answered that we would do just that right after they got their hair extensions.
“Seriously, Mom”, said honorable-son. “You mock, but they really exist; we did a case study on the company that developed them, and they will solve your pecking problems.”
“What pecking problems?”
That was then. This is now. Obviously I have heard of a pecking order, and being well versed etymologically, I knew from whence the expression came. But knowing an expression’s provenance is not remotely the same as experiencing it, intimately, daily in the chicken coop. Yes, our chickens peck each other, and the chickens at the top of the order peck the ones lower down the order. This order is, so we have learned, determined by their combs and their perception of combs, and this is where the contact lenses come in. A while back a farmer’s chickens developed cataracts. He separated the afflicted fowl from the rest of the flock, and called the vet. Together, they noticed that the chickens with cataracts were markedly less peckish and cannibalistic than his chickens with 20-20 vision. So instead of seeking to cure the cataract-chickens, they wondered how they could similarly afflict the whole lot of them.
You cannot actually give the chickens cataracts, but with red-tinted contact lenses you can reproduce the effects of cataracts, and their behavior will improve. A trained crew can insert lenses in 225 chickens per hour. We don’t have 225 chickens, and we aren’t trained. Sometimes it takes us several minutes to catch one chicken. And I gave up wearing contact lenses myself about 20 years ago because I became so impatient inserting them each morning.
For the Hens of Hastings, I am considering red-tinted spectacles on elastic bands.
Perhaps if they had all been wearing glasses, Wanda would not have met her untimely end, de-feathered and pecked by her roommates. It was while we were lamenting her death early this morning that Joanna, who is Polish, asked CSB if we ever feed our hens bread. He said that I sometimes do. And it’s true that on Wednesday when I made crust-less cucumber sandwiches for the Ladies Literature Club, I gave the crusts to the hens, and this somewhat mollified my normal guilt feelings about wasting all that good crust. I once tried serving cucumber sandwiches with crusts, but it was not a success; connoisseurs of cucumber sandwiches (such as CSB) are adamant that crusts have no place in a proper one. According to Joanna, her sister back in Poland does not give her chickens old bread because it is bad for their livers. She said it was the acid in bread that bothered their livers, but I think – from her rising gestures - she meant the yeast. English is not her first language.
Just a few minutes later Gill called to tell me that she read an article about a chef who asserts the secret of making great pasta is using Italian eggs because they have the most orange yolks. And Gill, who frequents Italy, concurs that Italian egg yolks are significantly more orange than even our newly laid eggs. So the question is: what are the Italian chickens eating?
And do they wear contact lenses?