Friday, January 22, 2010
Why My Next Chickens Will Be Named Dino and T.Rex
Yes, I am already thinking “next chickens.” I had planned to wait another year before getting new baby chicks. It was so much work to raise chicks last spring, I thought I’d give myself a year off.
But, by then the hens I already have will be two years old – and well into their third year before the new pullets start laying. The older ones will have slowed their laying, and you never know whether something will happen to one or more of them. When you have just a few birds, the loss of even one amounts to a significant percentage of your flock. Plus, I’m an “experienced” poultry woman now! Ha! It shouldn’t be as stressful as last spring.
It’s easy to get restless in winter, looking through seed catalogs, getting tempted by the variety of vegetables and fruits on offer, and now I have chickens, to check out the hatchery catalogs. Those Partridge Rocks sure are beautiful! They would provide some variety yet are still in the same family (Plymouth Rock) as our Barred Rocks, so I’m hoping they’ll get along. But maybe that’s a pipe dream. Maybe to a chicken, a Partridge Rock is just as different from a Barred Rock as is a Rhode Island Red.
On the other hand, maybe with their molt finished, they will hold wings and sing “Kumbaya.” I suspected they were starting a molt when I saw a few feathers last week, but it didn’t seem possible in the middle of winter. Now it’s clear they are molting. Batgirl has lost the most feathers; she is nearly bald on the back of her neck. I did a search at Backyard Chickens (what would I do without them??) and found others who had chickens molting in January, even in really cold places like Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada. It seems like a really stupid time to lose your winter coat, but who I am to second guess Mother Nature?
Many sources I’ve read say that chickens have hormonal fluctuations and are cranky during a molt. Maybe that’s why our previously well-behaved chickens are squabbling. I also read that I should give them more protein, to help with growing the new feathers. Some people give them cat or dog food, or feed with a higher percentage of protein. I’m suspicious about the quality of cat and dog food. Then I read of someone who gave their chickens deer and elk liver during a molt. She said it was safe because the livers had been in her freezer for two weeks - long enough to kill any parasites or bugs.
I had turkey livers in the freezer, so we thawed them and I gave them some this morning. They loved it! They abandoned their greens – their usual favorite treat – ignored me, and totally occupied themselves with devouring the liver. Usually, even after racing for their greens, they abandon that snack temporarily when they realize I’m leaving. They peck at my coat pocket until I bring out a little bag of cracked corn – their other morning treat in winter. Today their attitude was, Who needs corn when we’ve got fresh meat?
But back to naming my “next chickens.” As I’m sure you know, many scientists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs, based primarily on similarities in bone architecture and respiratory systems. Recently, researchers got their hands on some collagen protein from a 68 million year old T.rex and used a mass spectrometer to sequence the protein. They found that the ancient T.rex proteins “appear to most closely match amino acid sequences found in collagen of present day chickens.”
Now some researchers have got it into their heads to manipulate chicken DNA during embryo development and presumably hatch a “dinosaur,” or something with dinosaur characteristics. Hans Larsson, the Canada Research Chair in Macro Evolution at Montreal's McGill University, says the goal would be to prove that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. I’m glad somebody’s on the case, because it’s been keeping me up nights! Apparently a practical man, Larsson went on to say that he has no immediate plans to hatch live prehistoric animals, in part because a dinosaur hatchery “is too large an enterprise.”
Larsson is a colleague of paleontologist Jack Horner, Montana State University. Horner is one of the scientists who worked on the protein sequencing and was also a consultant for the “Jurassic Park” movies. Horner has said that his dream is “to walk on stage on The Oprah Winfrey Show with chickenosaurus following him on a leash.” Like Larsson, Horner says this project has the high-minded mission of illustrating evolution. Why do I feel that it’s more like boys playing with really big toys?
I think Horner should start with baby steps. I’d like to see him get a leash on Batgirl, let alone walk on stage at Oprah with her following him. Batgirl doesn’t follow anybody. Better yet, let him try this stunt with a rooster. Then he can move on to bigger game, like the chickenosaurus.