“How are my sweet friends doing today?” I ask in a baby voice, careful to walk softly without disturbing them too much.
My chickens eye me lazily from the tall grass. “Did you guys have nice day so far?”
While I am doing my usual crazy chicken lady speech I check on their water levels. All good. It’s a hundred degrees outside. I rushed out of work like a madwoman afraid they might have run out of water in my absence. I worry about many things in my life; my chickens’ livelihood is high on the priority list.
It is not dinner time yet. Only 4 pm, the sun is still high, my breezy living room seems much more appealing than being out in the orchard where the heat almost cuts into my lungs. The trees are graciously protecting me from the direct sunlight but it’s not enough. My birds know I’m here and they begin to stir, watching me with their golden round eyes.
“You guys ready?!” I begin to stomp on beautiful, plump, round apples, crushing them with my fancy leather flats. I was in such a hurry I forgot to put on my muck boots. Surprisingly, my dainty dress shoes work just great. The apples are over ripe and juicy, and their soft meat crushes easily under my heel.
They all know what’s coming now and, while to someone watching, I look like a crazy lady letting out her anger on some poor apples, to my birds I am a goddess of bounty. When I finally open their tractor doors and throw them the apples they hungrily scarf down large pieces, pecking away industriously. I have never seen chickens eating apples with such gusto!
Friends told me that the birds we were raising on the ranch, Cornish Cross, don’t eat grass, bugs, or anything else besides grain. “They were bred to be too stupid for any foraging.”
I raised chickens my whole childhood on our little farm in Moldova, but I had never seen birds too dumb to eat bugs or grass. I was quite puzzled by how I would take care of these “dumb” chickens. But the birds, bred specifically to be America’s meatiest and fastest growing chicken, have surprised me.
Not only do they eat grass and bugs all day (I know because I’ve processed over 100 of them at this point, and their gizzards are full of grass) but these birds love snacking on apples. In fact, some of them prefer the apples even when we give them grain at the end of the day. Who would have thought they would even have preferences!
Maybe these birds aren’t so dumb after all. Maybe the apples from the old orchard are just too good to pass up. Maybe spending their lives under the canopy of the apple trees and fresh grass has given their little brains just a little more smarts. Maybe they’re just happier than birds who spend all day inside tend to be. Probably, it’s all of the above.