I had an epiphany while feeding kale to chickens this morning.
Today dawned uncommonly warm after an uncommonly windy night. As I lugged water jugs to the foraging yards, I could hear the chickens rustling inside the coops, eager for the doors to open. They sensed and were ready to seize the sunshiny day.
Birds burst out of the barns and spread out, ranging much more widely than they had done in recent days. (When it’s cold, they tend to stay near shelter.)
After water but before grain and seeds comes kale. The young chickens rescued from the Kapparot ritual last fall are of a kind (called “broilers” by the poultry industry) bred to grow unnaturally large unnaturally quickly. The larger they get, the more vulnerable they become to heart attacks and other weight-related health problems. So, we encourage them to chow down on low-cal kale before we bring out the rest of their breakfast.
At first, the birds from the latest Kapparot rescue were skeptical of kale for breakfast. But, watching the other chickens flock for the tasty greens, they soon caught on. Now they come running when they see the kale. Roosters jostle for position. Hens look up pointedly, waiting. The other morning, when I was too slow in tearing the kale into bite-sized bits, one hen jumped up in the air and plucked at my jacket!
This morning, as I watched that hen and her friends playing keep-away with kale leaves, I thought: This is what it’s about. Not so much the long life —although of course we do our best— but the moments of joy.
The birds who started it all for us (Viktor, followed by Violet and Chickweed and then so many more) were so-called “broiler” chickens raised for meat on the Delmarva peninsula. When we learned, through heartbreaking experience, how short their lives can be, we resolved always to offer them as much animal happiness as possible in every one of their days. Friendships. Freedom. Sun on their feathers. And now, evidently, the edible plaything known as kale.
(We’ve still got a couple of spots open in the Kale Club. We can’t promise club members the bliss of actually feeding kale to chickens, but we do have some fun “members only” activities in mind. Click here to learn more.)