I remember coming home one night in a drunken stupor. I was in bed, and wanted to have some noise in the background as I fell asleep. I pressed play on a random documentary, not thinking much of it. I stared at the screen, expecting a mindless boredom that would eventually lead to sleep. Instead, I found myself captivated by a woman with a chicken on her lap saying that one day she hopes people will learn to love the chicken as much as she does. “May you all have the same joy I have had, knowing a chicken.”
I ended up watching the documentary in its entirety. When I woke up the next morning, I thought I might have dreamt the whole thing. A few months later, I tried looking for the film again. I couldn’t find it. Did I, in fact, dream this film? I searched for everything on Netflix that had the word “chicken” in the title. It had vanished.
Now let’s cut to last night. I was perusing documentaries, and far down the list–there it was: The Natural History of the Chicken. It came back, just for me. The amount of excitement I had at that moment for a PBS documentary should be illegal. Any more excitement and I might have become Ken Burns. I pressed play and watched it again. It was just as I had remembered. Better even, because now I was sober and could process the depth of the film even more.
Don’t let the title deceive you, The Natural History of the Chicken has absolutely nothing to do with the history of chickens. Nothing about the evolution of the chicken. No philosophical quandaries about what really came first–the chicken or the egg. No. The Natural History of the Chicken is purely a film about people, and their chickens. What kind of people? Let me show you.
1. Janet Bonney
Janet (we’re on a first name basis) starts the film off right with a harrowing tale of saving her chicken’s life during the winter by giving it CPR. Her chicken, who she appropriately named Valerie (for her valour), was frozen completely solid from the snow. Janet stars in her own re-enactment of the incident (as does everyone else in the film). Because Valerie wouldn’t fit in a shoebox, Janet left her on the kitchen table and went on to do some house work. When she came back to the presumably dead chicken an hour later, she noticed that the chicken had a little pulse visible from her neck. Janet then gave Valerie CPR. She never learned exactly how to do this, but had seen it on television. “I pried her little beak open, and I did give her mouth to beak.” Three hours later, the chicken was back in business. Sidenote: MOUTH TO BEAK.
Later in the film, Janet talks about an animal psychic she went to who she asked to communicate to Valerie for her. The question for Valerie was, “When you were frozen, had you been going down the tunnel with a light at the end? If so, why did you come back?” Valerie responded. Her answer will shock and amaze you. She said, “Yes, indeed. I did go down the tunnel. I got pretty close to the end, where the light was. Then I was told, ‘you must go back’. I realized that I had been put on this farm not just to lay eggs, but to prove to people that with love and with caring, miracles do happen.” That is one well-spoken chicken.
2. Karin Estrada
West Palm Beach resident Karin Estrada is the proud caretaker of a Japanese Silkie Bantam rooster named Cotton. Karin takes Cotton with her almost everywhere she goes (riding shotgun in the car, of course). When she has to leave the house without him, she leaves the television on for him, or classical music. Apparently he loves Pavarotti. He also wears a handmade diaper that she made for him, and occasionally eats McDonald’s.
3. Mike the Headless Chicken
This story is a special one. Many years ago, a farmer in Fruita, Colorado was going about his daily routine of chopping the heads off of chickens. I’m not sure why. Either for food, or just some plain-old fun! Anyhow, one of these chickens (rooster to be exact) refused to die. Rather, this rooster decided he should keep on living without a head. In his defense, heads are pretty overrated. This miracle rooster was given the name “Mike,” and word quickly got out about him. Soon, he was touring the world and seeing none of the sights. His owners started making a lot of money parading their freak chicken around, and were hoping to pay off all their debt. Mike was a bonafide star. However, the grandson of the farmer couple (the one telling this tale), assures us that fame did not entirely go to Mike’s (lack of) head. Mike lived a regular life, surrounded by his vision-having plebian rooster peers. He did have to be fed through a tube shoved down his esophagus, but other than that he was really just your average rooster.
Sadly, Mike’s fame was cut short. His life ended the way many celebrity lives end–in a dingy hotel room. You see, mucus build-up often formed in Mike’s throat, which had to be removed with an eye-dropper in order for him to keep breathing. Unfortunately, the eyedropper was left back at the sideshow where he had just been, and his owners could not find anything to dig the mucus out of his throat in time. Poor Mike choked to death. The sad farmer couple had lost their beloved Mike, and could no longer exploit a living creature for profit :(
Believe me when I tell you that these are just some of the amazing stories in the film The Natural History of the Chicken. I’ve seen it maybe six times so far. I’m addicted. It’s on Netflix Instant right now, not sure for how long. Honestly, I don’t know why I love it so much. Maybe I’m crazy. Yes, I am definitely crazy. I’m loco. El Pollo Loco. Sorry, please forgive me for that.
May you all have the same joy I have had, knowing The Natural History of the Chicken.