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Looking Back: Into the World of Chickendom


John Kinnear

May 22, 2024

There ain’t nobody here but us chickens,
There ain’t noboby here at all.
So calm yourself and stop the fuss
There ain’t noboby here but us. 

It has now been 29 years since I started crafting 1400 word sojourns into just about any topic you can name, historic or otherwise.  It all started in 1995 when I wrote a piece principally for myself, called, Courage, Conviction and Grace. It caught the eye of a reporter who suggested I have a natural talent and that I should do a column. The next thing you know its 2024 and although I have quite a few stories still ahead of me, it is an interesting exercise to step back in time and study what I wrote about and how I expressed myself.   

The particular offering was originally written in 1995 for the Fernie Free Press. It was a plunge into the world of Gallus gallus domesticus, something I knew nothing about. I wish I had had a digital camera back then because the encounter with so many different kinds of chickens that day was quite remarkable.  This coal miner’s son got a real education on our fowl feathered friends. Here then is my revisiting of that 1995 story.

 “He was standing quietly in the yard next to a large pile of old fruit with his eyes closed and his head hung down like a donkeys.  To all outwards appearances he was sleeping but in fact he was awake and merely suffering in silence on a hot late summer’s day.  “He” was in fact a large domestic turkey with a particularly wicked animal equivalent of a hangover. That came about because of an over indulgence in a lot of highly fermented grapes that were part of a pile of waste fruit picked up at a local grocery store.

 I had occasion recently to meet that gobbler along with a large collection of chickens, doves, pea fowl, pheasants, guinea fowl, quail, pot bellied pigs, pygmy goats, miniature rabbits, parakeets, budgies, canaries, a pony named Sapphire and a three month old border collie named Bingo.  The whole kit and kaboodle belongs to or should I say resides with a man by the name of Frank Soles, a bird lover if I ever met one.  Frank, his wife Cheryl and four children are living in the old Wycliffe general store out near the St. Mary’s River in the Kimberley, B.C. area.  Frank, a certified chicken judge, is nuts about birds, particularly chickens and a guided tour of his backyard revealed the most amazing collection of domestic fowl I have ever seen.

The first interesting barnyard specimen I ran into there was called “Moonshine” a Polish chicken.  Polish chickens are the Phyllis Diller’s of the poultry world as they have been endowed with a large feathered mop, like Phyllis’ comedic wigs, that hangs over their eyes.   They are also called Polands and are primarily a show bird. Moonshine was not the finest example of a Polish chicken one will ever see, as he had a very badly crossed bill and nature had affixed his mop-top on crooked, so that he had a lopsided look to him.  I guess that’s how he got his name as he looked like he might be the drinking partner of that hung over turkey.  Frank wanted to “do in” Moonshine because his severely crossed bill makes it impossible for him to grind up feed but the rest of the family has become quite attached to him and are fiercely protective of him.  

The next specimen that wandered into my sight looked like a cross between a chicken and a turkey in that he was rather large and had no feathering on his neck and sparse feathering in other areas.  Frank informed me that he was a “Transylvanian Naked Neck” or Turken, a special breed developed in Europe for its ease of plucking and its size (6 to 8 lbs).  While we in the Western World have for the most part divorced ourselves from dealing with chickens except at the meat counter , other countries still deal with chickens in a more “hands on “ way, hence the attractiveness of the naked neck. 

 Next to wander onto the scene, out from under an abandoned truck, was a little brown bantam Cochin.   The Cochin is a spectacularly feathered chicken whose origins are in China.  The trademark of Cochins is the reverse of naked necks as they have abundant plumage including on their legs and feet.  It kinda makes them look like they are wearing big floppy slippers.  Cochins, Frank informs me are terrific setters and come in 11 different colors.  They are often used to set on other chicken’s eggs. A surrogate chicken. Who’da thunk?

 One of the breeds the Cochin babysat for at Franks place was the silver spangled Hamburg, chickens of Dutch origin who are great layers but seem disinterested in the follow up work, i.e. setting. The silver Hamburg is one of the snappiest, most alert on the poultry list and a really elegant and beautiful bird that comes in eleven different colour varieties.

 As we stood there talking about poultry and agricultural shows a bantam (aka small) Golden Sebright rooster and his mate wandered close to us and that tiny little rooster began strutting his stuff, scratching and crowing and generally indicating he was the boss of the yard despite his miniature size.  The Seebright, it seems, was developed in England as a hobby chicken and its eggs are so small as to not be worth eating.  This particular Seebright rooster was as fierce and protective as they come and Frank indicated that he would unhesitatingly take on a rooster five times his size and not back down.

 What a refreshing treat it was to wander amongst these 300 or so free ranging chickens, a veritable catalogue of who’s who in chickendom.  You just know that the eggs these critters produce will be so much healthier and richer in color than those pathetically pale, massed produced ovum most of us are condemned to buy at the supermarket.  So some time when you are in a “fowl”mood and feeling a little “cooped” up, drop by Frank and Cheryl’s place out Wycliffe way.  Those two really keep “abreast” of the times when it comes to chickens. As Foghorn Leghorn is want to say, “You’re built to short boy, the fast ones go over your haid.”  (It appears I was not averse to a corny turn of phrase back then.)


Authors Note: I called Frank a couple days after that 1995 visit to verify some facts and he informed me that his prize turkey didn’t recover from that accidental binge and that he went to that big roost in the sky

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