One of Those Urban Mysteries

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What I have always enjoyed about farming in Philly is the shift in perspective needed to grow food in a city. In the country farmers think about how lines of trees affects the wind and the sunlight. In the city we think about how buildings do this. In the country farmers think about how to get their water out of wells. In the city we think about how to get our water off of roof tops. And in the country, farmers devise intricate plans on how to stop foxes and other predators from eating their chickens. And until three days ago, the threat I feared most for my chickens was from the packs of feral cats that roam the neighborhood.

When I heard from my wife that our alpha chicken Mother Clucker was missing, my first thought was of a cat stalking her and dragging her away, which is ironic because she was the hen who most terrorized our runt chicken on the bottom of the pecking order. But after a careful inspection of the coop, the likelihood that it was a cat seemed very low. From the accounts of chicken farmers in the country, the hallmark of a fox attack is the violent explosion of feathers that is usually found following the attack. But in our coop, there were no feathers and no signs of a struggle. And as I understand, foxes are much craftier hunters (hence all of the expressions about them) so if they would still leave a trail of feathers behind, it stands to reason that a cat would do the same if not worse.

Our next thought was that Mother Clucker had somehow escaped. But as I have witnessed, when one chicken flies the coop, they all follow. A few weeks ago I thought that all of the chickens had disappeared. But after a quick walk around the farm, I found them all hiding in the rows of tomatoes, and I chased them back to the hole in the fence from which they came. On reflection of this story, I remembered my initial reaction when I couldn’t find them was to say, “Someone stole all of our chickens.” After finding them all that time, I assured myself that I was being ridiculous. Who would want to steal a chicken? But as Elisa and I sat down at the kitchen table, staring at each other in disbelief, the question did not seem that ridiculous. 

Could someone have stolen our chicken? If the answer is yes, then the immediate follow up question is who would want to steal a chicken. Was it some hungry person in the neighborhood who couldn’t tell the difference between a young hen ripe for broiler, and the old Mother Clucker who wouldn’t even be suited for the stew pot? Or was it what one friend described one time as he stumbled across a chicken nailed to a tree in one of the more wooded areas of the city with religious tokens at the feet of the sacrifice spot? I thought this theory to be bizarre until I stumbled into the Botanica shop down the street from my house today and perused the miniature statues of animal sacrifice amongst the soaps and incense.

Whatever happened, Mother Clucker is long gone, without a trace. The rest of the flock is holding up. But when I first got chickens, I worried about cats, I worried about my neighbors complaining and the police taking them away. But never did I worry that someone would sneak into our yard in the dead of night and make off with one of our chickens for who know what purpose. And then again, when I was learning how to farm out in the country, I never thought that I’d ever be growing food in Kensington. I guess this is just one of the many adventures you get when you bring the farm to Philly.

Posted by Nic on 09/11 at 07:17 PM

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