Bird Flu Chicken Poop

by Spec MacQuayde, July 19, 2006

Every time I see the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, I wonder if it's worth torturing myself by trusting that paper to give me a picture of what humanity is up to. I don't buy it. I mean, I stop at the coffeeshop and there it is staring, glaring at me from the table while I sip my imported kick. The weather page is at the back of the Empire News, and fighting my way past all the depressing headlines and oversized ads to get the forecast barely seems worth the trouble in July, when rain and frost are pretty unlikely.

If I could find the weather page with my eyes closed, I'd probably sleep better at night. The war reports make no sense at all. The photographs are all staged. They must think we are as stupid as they are. Every little piece about this or that is placed strategically like the items on the shelves in some department store, meant to steer our brains towards the next purchase.

One story that pops up regularly in the PD is the avian flu and its supposedly disastrous possibilities.

This avian flu business had me confused for quite a while. Even the stories about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction made more sense than the jumbled concoctions of seemingly unrelated sentences that passed as reporting on the subject. Because I keep several hundred chickens, I take special interest in that story. Here and there I gathered that the flu virus was present in chicken manure and that it was supposedly carried by migratory fowl. It seemed to be occurring in China, at first.

The PD ran a frontpage headliner sometime last fall with a picture showing these four Chinese doctors in white coats wearing dust masks and carrying syringes. The caption mentioned something about how these doctors were walking the streets of Chinese villages, vaccinating all the ducks, geese, and chickens. I remember reading a quote by some expert who went so far as to say that it was the little flocks of birds kept by private citizens that were most at risk, and that this was some "outmoded" method of keeping birds.

I was stunned! Doctors and vets on foot walking through the entire Chinese countryside with syringes, vaccinating all the ducks, geese, and chickens? No way. I couldn't believe it. The pictures were too surreal. What the hell was really going on?, I wondered. It bothered me. I know what it's like to catch one chicken.

People come over to our local farm all the time to buy chickens. They come in the day, even though I always try to tell them to come over just about nightfall, as that is by far the easiest time to catch a chicken. At nightfall the chickens are all on their roosts, and they are basically dormant. If you have a flashlight, you can go shopping, pick the ones you want.

But during the day, good luck. We usually catch the birds that people want, but not without a bunch of scurrying around, feathers flying, and diving in the dust.

Those people in the photograph, walking with their syringes, posing for that picture that was going to be plastered across every homogenized newspaper from the New York Times to the Press Democrat (not very far, actually), they were doing this stuff in the middle of the day. I just can't imagine those vets catching all the chickens in the villages in a country with over one billion people. It would have taken a lot of vets. They could have used all the vets from Vietnam, Iraq, Korea, and every war in human history, and it would have taken all those vets a long time just to inject all the chickens. You're talking about a lot of labor, not exactly what the vets had in mind when they did their tours of duty in graduate school. The newspaper showed these four vets, in their white jackets, their faces looking grim at the task ahead. There were no numbers in the article telling us how many vets were trying to tackle the problem.

I'm not finished with that picture — because, in addition to the several hundred hens I keep at our farm, and the dozens of roosters, we also have three ducks living in our pond. You would need a slingshot or a .22 to catch those ducks. They roost on the pond at night. In two years, the raccoons have never caught them.

Duck meat is fairly popular in China.

There were no numbers in that article that I remember. I mean there were no numbers telling us how many chickens and ducks had dropped dead. The basic who, what, where, why, and the when — the staples of standard reporting — were absent from not only that article, but most of the conventional coverage of the issue. I want to know how many chickens died, and where, and how many ducks, and how many people, and how this disease was being spread. I want to know because I gather eggs every day, and I clean the straw bedding out of the coops, so I am no doubt at more risk for this than anyone I know.

The part about how keeping backyard flocks of poultry was an "outmoded form" really bothered me almost as much as those four vets looking like ghostbusters. Was this expert telling us that factory farms, with millions of chickens confined cheek by wattle in incandescent lit dirty little cages, never seeing the sun, is the pinnacle of foul husbandry?

And where did the migratory birds come in? The articles avoided specifics like medieval peasants avoiding the plague. I had never seen such vague referencing in my life. It was more vague than "weapons of mass destruction." What species of migratory birds were being affected?

With this West Nile Virus, which people seem to have forgotten in the wake of the avian flu bonanza, we have read in the local newspapers about specific birds being reported dead — crows and blue jays have been mentioned. I want to know what wild birds are falling out of the sky. I want to know if anyone has warned Chicken Little.

People have actually tried to get me to take their flocks of chickens because they were worried about the bird flu. I guess they thought I wasn't worried about it. When you do the farmer's markets, though, and you sell eggs, you really open yourself up to the public, because every concerned citizen who walks by knows you must have chickens. So when they're scared shitless about a strange, lethal disease that they can't get a lot of straight information on, they see the person who sells eggs as a natural outlet for their worries.

"Why don't you just eat all your chickens, this weekend?" I told the member of one local intentional community. They had a bunch of chickens that were laying eggs for them every day, and they were worried about it. "Throw a big party! Solve all your problems!"

"Oh, we couldn't do that," said its representative.

"That's too bad," I said. "Maybe you should just let the raccoons eat them then, because I don't need any more chickens."

I mean it. There are limits in this world. There is a limit to how many eggs any person wants to gather and inspect and clean and stick into cartons every day. There is a limit to how many chickens can run around and poop and eat bugs and grass and seeds on only so much land.

I sure as chickenshit do not want to exceed those limits. For one thing, if I kept too many chickens, I'd have to buy more feed. The way it is, I move the chicken trailer every week or so, just the same way a sheepherder moves the flock from one pasture to another, or a cowherd, or the way that the buffalo and elk herds migrate around, or the myriad species of migratory birds. That way, there's plenty to eat, and the chickenshit doesn't pile up like it does at the Press Democrat.

Our chickens have been deriving more than half their food from grass seeds ever since the wild bluegrass started bolting in late February. Now they are feasting on Harding grass seeds, as they have been eating wild oats and rye grass seeds, in addition to the wheat cover crops that we allowed to mature.

If we had two million chickens instead of 200, you can probably imagine that we'd be purchasing the majority of feed for those birds. Except for the occasional fly or spider, or really stupid mouse, those caged industrial chickens depend on what the chicken industry decides to feed them. In many cases, we're talking about the direct byproducts from the meatpacking plants, in addition to whatever soybean meal or corn is mixed with the antibiotics and salts and inert whathaveyou that gets dispensed from the machines, and whatever kind of spooky stuff the jaded workers toss in just for kicks.

Whatever those chickens eat, if you're talking about two million of them, they generate some heaps of shit. They ought to write for the newspapers.

If we had two million chickens, we'd probably be getting a different response from our neighbors. Instead of asking how much for a dozen eggs, they might have other comments. They'd probably be calling our attorney at corporate headquarters, instead of appearing in person.

If we had two million chickens, we might be selling trainloads of chickenpoop to organic megafarms, who would be employing people to spread it like so much dust in the wind, probably to grow salad mix. We'd probably be employing undocumented workers to take care of the mountains of shit, or the lagoons of it, depending on our preferred method of containing it or disposing of it. If we lived in Arkansas, or if we were setting up our operations somewhere like China or India, where independent chicken farmers have been virtually wiped out by the hype over this age-old flu virus, we would be totally out of business, unless we were working for Tyson or Perdue. They know how to dispose of shit. Just dump it in the river. No point wasting your time spreading it on fields, especially with strange viruses supposedly mutating all over the place.

American companies have made big bucks on this virus, almost as much as the Tamiflu manufacturers. American poultry products and, now, factory farms, are really moving swiftly into the regions where the bird flu has caused governments to quarantine and depopulate (aka kill) all the fowl. Evidently American corporate birds are either immune to the virus or get huge doses of antibiotics, though they may be more immune once they get the patent on that genetically-modified bird, the one that's resistant to the virus that wipes out all the competition.

If you want to know about this here bird flu instead of taking the PD's word for it, when you run your little search engines on the net, rather than punching in "bird flu" or "avian flu" or "avian bird flu" or "pandemic," you should look under "bird flu production complex," or "factory farms bird flu." There you will find scores of less frequently visited sites that describe the outbreaks of the flu as they have occurred in and around the facilities where millions of birds are housed in corporate chicken hellholes, and in the surrounding fields of those districts where the manure byproducts have been spread liberally, probably to grow organic crops for the American consumer.

Or to fill the news hole at the Press Democrat.

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