Chicken run

The chicken run

Much of the foodie world is seduced by the economic-romantic myth of grow-your-own, self-sustaining food production… this delightful essay is a paean to the efficiencies of the modern food industry, but mostly it’s a dig at those SA poultry producers who have clamoured and won government protection at the expense of the consumer.

Jerry Schuitema writes in a column on…

SWELLENDAM – Not more than 20 meters from my idyllic rented farm house nestled between the slopes of the Langeberg Mountains and the Breede River is a forlorn abandoned chicken run.

It’s a nostalgic shrine to fruitless attempts at self-sufficiency — that deep and irrational urge that tugs at one’s conscience in troubled times – when politicking can stymy one of the world’s biggest national budgets; when a debt laden populace loses faith in its means of exchange; when poo is thrown in protest and when violent political springs are sprung.

That chicken run played no small measure in my decision to become an urban refugee. I had comforting visions of roosters heralding the dawn and copious feasts of eggs and drumsticks harvested from scores of fowls running freely in the considerable expanse around the renovated “opstal”. The potential abundance could be shared with friends and neighbours in exchange for cabbages and corn, offsetting potential protein overload.

What followed was a long and sorry struggle. First we discovered that our locally acquired motley clutch refused to seek refuge in the badly fenced run, let alone the decades old zinc chicken house. Attempts to get them to lay eggs in nests fashioned from plastic crates were fruitless. They chose rather to hide their passion fruit under thorn bushes and stinging nettles in the surrounding hectares and sleep in trees to show us that contrary to popular belief they can be quite accomplished fliers. Catching them for the table was beyond any geriatric capability.

Then came the day that one of our pet Jack-Russells proudly dragged in a headless carcase, followed soon by another, and then another. Disbelieving that nature could be so wasteful, we concluded that it was our two spoilt Jackies who had lost the art of hunting for food, emulating humans in killing for sport. Our decision to let them go was supported by their over-zealous appreciation of freedom to disappear for days and form packs with other dogs in terrorising everything that moved in the area.

We had little time to mourn their departure, before we found another carcase in the same headless, blood-drained state – and then more until our clutch of fifty or so was reduced by half. The Draculas were none other than fat otters from the Breede River, already overfed on guinea fowl.

So like humans, our fowls were imprisoned in the name of freedom. Free range became semi-free behind a fenced 500 square meters of fertile bug and foliage carrying land. The house itself was cleaned and renovated but retained its original reed and bamboo fixtures which clearly had served its previous inhabitants well.

Then they all got sick. We thought they were overwhelmed by the loss of their freedom and were going through the four stages of grief. But then one died and soon all were gone apart from the wily old rooster. It took a local to inform us that they died of anaemia caused by blood sucking lice. The tiny creatures were dormant for years in fixtures we preserved in a misguided salute to bygone days….. Read the full column