Pet or meat? Or, Foghorn Leghorn wears pull-ups
Well, you got your dog people. And your cat people. Your ferret, parakeet, guinea pig, rabbit, gerbil, tropical fish, snake, and Capuchin monkey people. My friend Pat’s daughter counts her Mexican jumping beans among her menagerie. You even got your rat people.
But, until I read about it in The Wall Street Journal last week, I wasn’t aware that there were an appreciable number of chicken people. Oh, I knew vaguely about it. Years ago, when her kids were small, my friend Marie (dog people, if ever) had next door neighbors who kept chickens as pets for their little ones. The neighbors were considered complete eccentrics, utter kooks.
Well, fast forward a couple of decades, and chickens are no longer being kept for the potential to offer a home-grown, free-range, corn-fed, backyard alternative to the hormone-inflated, breast-pumped, solid-white-meat, factory-produced chicken product. (Which, I will confess, I have been known to buy.) Or as mere providers of fresh eggs.
No, chickens are now bona fide pets.
And to prove it, the WSJ found MyPetChicken for us. MyPetChicken, I suspect, is as much for those whose chickens become working pets, at least of the egg-laying variety. The site is silent on the pet or meat aspects of their business. So there’s no info that I could find about neck wringing, head chopping, feather plucking, disemboweling, and what to with the yucky parts like gizzards. Instead, they focus on things like incubators and coops. And fun items like these nifty chicken beak glasses.
This business is not chickenfeed, by the way. The couple who run it used to do so as a sideline to their real professional careers. Now the business brings in over $1 million a year. Good-bye, corporate America. Hello, entrepreneur-ville.
And lest you think that chicken-related businesses are all in places like Arkansas, MyPetChicken is in Connecticut.
But there are, naturally, chicken businesses other than Tyson’s in Arkansas.
One of them is Hot Springs, Arkansas-based Chicken Diapers, which is run by chemist-by-profession Ruth Haldeman. Having decided she wanted the eggs a few years back, she started raising chickens. These little critters, she found:
….are like peanuts, you can’t have just one.
Which is actually how I feel about Buffalo chicken tenders with blue cheese and celery sticks, but that’s neither here nor there.
Of course, where there’s a chicken, there’s going to be chickenshit. And Ms. Haldeman soon realized that, bless their yucky-tasting little hearts, chickens can’t be trained to use a litter box or hold it until the owner gets home from work.
So, she invented a chicken diaper:
…with a replaceable liner. She says it takes her about an hour to stitch one together, and her diapers are available in a variety of colors and patterns, such as rainbow and camouflage. She usually charges between $9 to $14 depending on a bird's size.
This has got to be a labor of love, because working as a chemist sure has to pay more than $9 an hour. (By the way, if you don’t want to buy liners, you can make your own out of sanitary napkins. Personally, chicken-petting sounds like way, way, way too much work for me. When would I find any time to blog, what with having to splice up Kotex?)
The diapers are reusable – none of this filling up landfills with mounds of itsy-bitsy Pampers that won’t bio-degrade until the 25th century (if then). But I do have to ask myself who wants to change and wash chicken diapers. (Maybe there’s a diaper service. If not, there’s a dream of an entrepreneurial idea for you.)
Diapers, which enable “your bird to have freedom of
movement in your home without the mess,” are, in fact, helping elevate the status of chickens.
In January, Kevin Tschida bought diapers from Ms. Haldeman for the four chickens he and his wife, Paula, live with in their rented single-floor home in Bakersfield, Calif. "They have made a huge difference," he says. "There is less smell in the house, less bending over."
Mr. Tschida says the birds, plus two ducks who wear diapers he bought from a different vendor, spend most of their time frolicking and sleeping indoors. "It is like the diaper removes them from the farmyard and gives them the status of pets," says Mr. Tschida, who also owns a dog, two cats, two parrots, a rabbit and some fish.
As a city girl, I am unlikely to ever, ever, in a billion years have chickens (let alone ducks) as pets. But I suppose if the sea-level rises, and floods me out of Boston, I can retire to what will then be the mild and temperate climate of central Maine and raise me some chickens, so I can have an occasional omelet to go along with the delish tomatoes I’ll be growing during the long, sunbaked winters.
But I don’t imagine I’d have chickens – with or without diapers – running around my house.
I like my pets to be a tad brighter, a teensie bit more sentient than your average chicken. I know I’m probably being humanist here, but what does the average chicken IQ run? Mid single digits? Dog IQ’s run up to 30 points or so, so there’s a bit more two-way streeting going on, no?
I know why a dog would cross the road: to fetch a stick, grab a Frisbee, chase a squirrel, come because I’m calling him, lick my hand, lick my face, and sniff out the dog bone I’ve hidden in my hand.
I have absolutely no idea why the chicken would cross the road.
Nor would I be designing special outfits for my chickens, even though those 4th of July chickens look rather sporty. (Good thing the Supreme Court ruled that it was okay to wear a flag patch on the seat of your pants, no?)
I wonder how the chickens feel about getting dressed up? Maybe in some cases, it’s not so bad to have a single digit IQ…
Still, it’s comforting to know that not everything in our economy is at a dead end. As long as we’ve got people willing to buy chicken diapers, it ain’t all over.
Labels: interesting business