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Chickens and sows

08/14/2013 @ 8:35am

I was reading an article about a family who is starting a little farm, hoping to raise and sell vegetables and meat to their neighbors.  What’s interesting is that the farm is in Sonoma County, California. They had to borrow $5 million to buy 300 acres and equipment, and they sell chickens for $28 each.

OK, that isn’t the interesting part, this is: The business is owned by a family of nonfarmers, and in the interview one of them said -- and I quote, “The most amazing thing happens when a sow is in labor down in the farrowing pen. The laying hens will go and gather round her and make sure to drop an egg right near her face for a little added protein to keep her energy up.”

Here’s the thing. That doesn’t happen. Granted, while I feel like I know hogs pretty well after three decades as a hog farmer, I only have 20 years or so of chicken experience, so maybe I’m missing some deep wells of intelligence and compassion in the average hen. And, this farm is in California, where, unlike western Minnesota, many magical things happen. Even so, I’m willing to bet almost any amount of money that there are no tender, interspecies birthing-bonding occasions in which chickens sacrifice their eggs so a sow can keep her energy up while farrowing.  

But that isn’t the most interesting part, either. The most interesting part was that this article was in the New York Times and no one, not the reporter or any of the people who were commenting mentioned or questioned the statement about the hen/sow birthing extravaganza.  

I don’t know how to put this tactfully, so I’ll just say it straight out.

Are people really that stupid?  

It seems a fair question. Here’s a statement about animal behavior that Walt Disney wouldn’t have put in a cartoon, and it’s apparently accepted as fact by the reporter and readers of one of the great newspapers in the world. Does that worry anyone? I mean, I don’t know a lot about New York, but if someone told me there were alligators the size of Volkswagens in the sewers I’d be a little dubious.  I’ve never been to Timbuktu, but if someone told me that it’s a place where people walk on their heads and eat fried mud, I would express polite doubt.

But someone is quoted in a news article as saying that on a farm chickens gather around sows farrowing and lay eggs conveniently close to their mouths so they can get some added protein to keep their strength up, and no one notices that she’s talking nonsense?  What else happens? Are the rats bringing ice chips so the sow doesn’t get a dry mouth? Are the llamas weaving receiving blankets for the piglets?

Now, I’m not mocking city folks moving to the country – I wish more of them would do just that. We have plenty of room out here, and it’s a great place to live, so come on out. And I’m certainly not mocking someone who can sell a chicken for $28 – more power to her.  

My point is that in this world, there are any number of gray areas where honest disagreement is likely to occur, and in those cases reporters should just report the facts and let people judge for themselves. But some things are true beyond reasonable dispute, and some things are complete nonsense, and it’s my opinion that if someone is spouting nonsense to a reporter, it’s part of his/her job to point out the deviation from reality. And if the reporter/newspaper/TV station doesn’t even notice the deviation from reality, it’s OK to point that out, too.

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