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Nevertheless, Rayne recommends that even married women keep chickens, because it can be done without interfering with domestic duties.The usual barnyard chicken in the early nineteenth century had a red comb, glossy feathers, and dinosaurlike legs—sleek and nice-looking but unremarkable.
When I left Manhattan a few years ago and moved a hundred miles north to a house with land and animal-friendly zoning, the first creature I planned on getting was a horse, later downgraded to a donkey.
I did fleetingly consider a duck, because I had seen some at my neighbor’s house and thought they were darling.
They were cheap and easy to raise; unlike cows or sheep, they were hardy and tolerant of most weather, could subsist on table scraps and bugs, took up little space, required the simplest of housing, and fertilized the garden while they scratched through it.
Gathering eggs was so easy that children were often assigned to do it; by contrast, getting milk or meat or wool was a major production. A hundred years ago, a chick cost about fifteen cents and a laying hen a few dollars.
A red-faced man with a lame poodle was sitting next to me.
I had my chicken in a cat carrier, and when the man leaned over to peek at her I could tell by the look on his face that he had expected to see a mewling kitten.“All of my chickens had names, all of them,” she said recently. For instance, I was unhappy when my Egyptian Fayoumi hen froze to death.” She sighed and then added, “It was awful.I’ll never get another Egyptian Fayoumi again.”Not long ago, I was in the waiting room of my veterinarian’s office with one of my chickens, who was ailing.I had never seen Janet Bonney reënact the mouth-to-beak resuscitation of her hen Number Seven, who had been frozen solid in a nor’easter, then was thawed and nursed back to life—being hand-fed and massaged as she watched doctor shows on TV—I might never have become a chicken person.But a few years ago I happened to watch a documentary called “The Natural History of the Chicken,” which opens with the story of Bonney and Number Seven, and for the first time the thought of owning chickens entered my mind.Even now, two years into my chicken stewardship, this is a big surprise to me.I am an animal fancier, but fur-bearing has always been my type: I had never wanted a bird.The covers of early chicken magazines, such as , featured women and children on sun-kissed farms with hens and chicks at their feet.A book published in 1919, “A Little Journey Among Anconas,” which extolls the Ancona breed, features a photograph of a lovely young woman in a crisp summer dress, gazing adoringly at a black chicken perched on her right hand.Small and manageable, chickens were just an extension of a kitchen garden, and women often sold extra eggs to make some money of their own.In an 1893 book called “What Can a Woman Do,” a guide for women looking for income, the suggested professions include lady journalist, dentist, poet, and hen-keeper.