A conversation at a poultry shop
Azmat Alam Khan
Both the Broiler chick and Layer hen tried to avoid each other and began nibbling on some leftover crumbs in the feeder. Luckily for both of them, the poultry shop had very few customers because of some misinformation arising on account of the outbreak of bird flu in a neighbouring state. No customers at the shop meant chicken at display got some more time to stay alive.
Nibbling on the crumbs from the feeder did not last long. Layer hen who was more outspoken was first to break the ice and strike a conversation. “Excuse me, Sir! You seem to be quite smart, and I guess you are taking good care of your physique. Any tips for me?” she told the broiler chick. “Thanks for the compliment. Please do not address me as Sir! I am just six weeks of age”, the broiler chick spoke in a bit of a hurry. “Only six weeks!” exclaimed the layer hen. “You must be from some other planet” the layer hen added. “No madam. I am from this very planet. I am specifically bred for fast growth. In fact, I am a crossbred. My parents are from different breeds; Cornish father and Plymouth Rock mother to be precise” the broiler chick explained. “Are chicken of your type only males and if there are females in your breed do they lay eggs,” the layer hen asked with excitement. “Of course! there are male and female broiler chicks” the broiler chick replied, pointing to two broiler chicks in the cage who were females. “And if we grow, hens among us can lay eggs also,” the broiler chick added in a husky voice. “Unfortunately, we end up quite young on the man’s plate and never get to grow beyond seven weeks of age”, the broiler chick added in a depressing tone. “Ah! Sorry to hear that” the layer hen tried to console the broiler chick.
“Madam, tell me something about yourself. How old are you? What about your ancestry?” the broiler chick enquired. “Well! I am some eighteen months old and mostly the birds of our type belong to White Leghorn breed” the hen replied. “You seem to be quite lean and thin. Don’t you get enough food to eat?” the broiler chick enquired further. “Like your breed has been specifically bred for fast growth, our breed has been specifically bred for laying a good number of eggs,” the hen replied. “That is really great more eggs would mean more baby chicks. Your breed must be propagating well,” the broiler chick replied. He was now getting very interested in the conversation. “Don’t you have male birds” the broiler chick enquired further.
The layer hen replied with a deep sigh, “My boy! There is a very sad story behind all this. No doubt our breed lays a good number of eggs but eggs being laid by females, the male chicks of our breed are killed once they are hatched. Man has mastered the skill of identifying the sex of baby chicks at their hatch. The male chicks are identified, separated and dumped in polythene bags and suffocated to death. Only female chicks get to grow in layer farms and after six months of age start laying eggs and lay an egg almost every day”.
“Wait! Wait! How come you lay eggs without males,” the broiler chick interrupted. “My boy! No male intervention is required to lay eggs,” the layer hen explained. “Man needs table eggs (unfertilised) for his diet and he gets them from the hens. Such eggs will never produce chicks even if incubated for 100 days instead of 21 days. For getting chicks a separated class of chicken known as parent stock is reared where in cocks and hens are stocked together to obtain fertile eggs for hatching,” the hen added further.
“O! That is the case. Thank you for the explanation,” the broiler chick said. “Well, now I am able to understand that I am here in this shop to be sold to somebody to relish my meat and you are here to produce eggs that are being sold in those trays”, the broiler chick added, pointing to the stack of egg boxes and trays lying in another corner of the poultry shop. “No my boy! You are wrong”, the layer hen replied clearing her throat. “Like you, I am here to end up on somebody’s plate. I am done with the job of laying eggs. I still can but not with that high frequency. The hens of my age are sold as spent hens,” the layer hen added further.
While the layer hen and the broiler chick were engrossed in an interesting discussion, the poultry shop had a customer who asked for a chicken. The shop owner caught hold of the broiler chick and in no time, dressed it and handed over the cut-up parts to the customer packed in a bag. While the layer hen was still lamenting at the sudden loss of her newly found friend, a beggar woman approached the poultry shop owner for alms. She begged the shopkeeper to spare some giblets for preparing soup for her children. The shopkeeper was too generous and instead of giving away giblets, he caught hold of a layer hen, dressed it and handed over the packet to the beggar woman.
The author teaches Poultry Science at SKUAST-Kashmir. He can be reached at email@example.com