Chickens Will Evolve at Katha’s Animal Farm

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This letter to the editor appeared in The Key west citizen on Wednesday, January 8th, 2008. Katha Sheehan was the proprietor of The Chicken Store.

Chickens will evolve at Katha’s animal farm

As we step into a new year, I have a resolution and a prediction I would like to share.

My New Year’s resolution is to buy a property, whether within Monroe County or out, to make my dream of a Rooster Park come true. …

My vision for the park: it would be a permanent home for all the chickens not wanted in the city of Key West. It would be filled with banyans and fruit trees, and would also double as a pet cemetery (providing income for its maintenance). All kinds of animals would be welcome to coexist there, so long as they are spayed or neutered, and get along with the chickens. …

Once I secure the property, I will launch a new “Retire a Nuisance Chicken” program: On demand, I will pick up unwanted fowl for $50 a rooster, and the hens for free.

Why? Because faced with the recent $20 fee for chicken pickup, people invariably say: “Just pick up the roosters. Leave the hens, they’re OK.” This of course splits up happy chicken families — chickens can be very devoted to their spouse and chicks — and also it sets the scene for a whole new wave of nuisance fowl. …

On Katha’s Farm, the eggs will be taken for use, and the population kept stable by attrition.

This brings me to my prediction, which is born of eight years of learning with the chickens. I have discovered how intelligent they are when they are self-selected, streetwise and unrestricted.

Human intelligence wasn’t built in a day. How many millions of years did it take us to generate language and discover time? How many millennia more, to organize into stationary communities, and invent the written word? You only get a couple of Einsteins per century. How would we have developed if another species bred us for our hair type or our meat, and were kept in small cages without information or tools? These are the chickens most people know and make fun of.

Wild chickens are smart and adaptable, and have foresight. I am fascinated by the richness (and flexibility) of their language. I have become convinced that we, humans, would be little smarter than chickens if we were raised only with the information provided by our parents and the limits of our neighborhood. Archimedes and Newton would have lived and died in vain; we could not anticipate a hurricane or plan a career; ours would be a hardscrabble existence of tedious food-searching, punctuated by episodes of mortal fear.

… I intend to introduce chickens (and other animals) to technology, once I set up my sanctuary, and film their response. I believe there are many animals ready to leapfrog ahead, even as many backwater humans have with the introduction of cell phones and computers. I want to watch it happen.

My prediction is this: By Jan. 1, 2050, animals will be buying and selling stuff on eBay. Be there.

Katha Sheehan, Key West