This post was written in 2015. Since then, alas, things have changed, chicken-wise. The Internet is replete with stories of the struggles faced by Bastrop’s chickens and their champions. At some point, I might get around to summarizing the situation on this blog, but not today. — KW, June 2020
Bastrop, Texas protects its chickens. Homeless chickens–and, I presume, chickens who have a place to hang their hats–are allowed to cross Farm Street with impunity, and to loiter in yards there.
In February 2015, the Bastrop City Council proclaimed Farm Street a Historic Chicken Sanctuary.
The proclamation covers only a limited area, however. Outside the protected space, chickens depend on the kindness of strangers.
One citizen, and perhaps more, disapprove of the proclamation and think the Council’s action should be reconsidered.
The resulting controversy has put Bastrop chickens on the national map.
The Wall Street Journal calls them “feral chickens,” but that’s such a negative term, and not accurate. All chickens are feral. They’re either inside the fence or out.
Feral hogs are feral. Chickens are just chickens.
In 2009, after a citizen filed a complaint against a chicken, a group of residents addressed the City Council about protecting chickens that congregate in streets and yards. Their request initiated the movement to protect the chickens.
But some residents still aren’t happy about the roving fowl. One says it’s a health issue because they leave waste on people’s property. The mayor said they leave poo on the sidewalks. He might have actually said poop, but I think it was poo.
On the other hand, some say the poo helps their yards and gardens.
When I was a small child, my parents raised chickens, so I know what’s possible/probable, and I don’t doubt either of the claims.
Other complainants–or maybe the same ones concerned about the poo–complain that roosters crow all night and wake their children.
With all those streetlights shining in their faces, it’s no wonder they crow all night. They can’t get a lick of sleep themselves.
I say nocturnal roosters need bedrooms. The city should build them some nice little houses–one for each rooster; don’t put them all in together–and shoo them inside every evening. Provide adequate ventilation, but don’t let in any light. Properly constructed rooster houses lower the chance of nocturnal crowing. Don’t forget to let them out in the morning.
Residents outside the protected area would have to build their own houses, but that’s a small price to keep children sleeping. As my mother used to say, “Never wake a sleeping baby.” By baby, she meant anyone under the age of, say, six. Or ten.
I should mention that shooing roosters, especially those categorized as feral, requires several shooers, heavy gloves, and possibly a net. No matter the temptation, rooster-catchers, even those outside the Sanctuary, must be careful not to harm the roosters. Harm a rooster and it will harm you back. Big time.
I’ll also mention that children who wander into a rooster’s territory could be at risk. Geese will snap and bite, toothlessly, but roosters spur, and the result is not pretty.
[Correction: Geese have teeth, and so do ducks, and they use them for biting. For more information, see Kaye George’s comment, below. Kaye has scars from an encounter with a duck.]
By the way, if “all night” means 5:00 a.m., get over it. That’s daytime. Roosters can’t be held responsible for following the dictates of their circadian rhythms.
Disclaimer: In the interest of fairness, I must say that all roosters are not created equal. For example, my fourth-grade friend, Sarita Morgan, had a citified pet rooster living peaceably in the back yard. He was huge. One day when I was visiting, she let the rooster hop onto her forearm and carried it into the living room to introduce him to her mother’s bridge ladies, of whom my mother was one. Mrs. Morgan said, in a voice filled with emotion, “Sarita, get that rooster out of here before he spurs somebody.” My mother thought the episode cute. That’s because Sarita did it. If I’d brought a monster bird to bridge club, it wouldn’t have gone over nearly so well.
Sarita and I took the rooster back outside. He behaved like a gentleman throughout and would probably have liked to stay and kibbitz a while. He’d never seen women playing bridge.
But that was a Del Rio rooster. One Bastrop rooster, Mr. McGillicuddy, who lived outside the Sanctuary, proved such a problem that neighbors formed a posse. They threw a net over Mr. McGillicuddy, drove him out to a rural area, and let him go.
Relocation seems a little extreme. I hope Mr. McGillicuddy wandered into the yard of a chickenphile who appreciates his eccentricities.
People on Farm Street, most of them anyway, like the chickens and defend their right to live there and do what they want. They say chickens are a historic part of the town, which, let’s face it, was rural until the recent mass migration to Texas from Everywhere Else.
One Bastropite said, “I don’t know anyone who lives here that considers them a problem. When I heard about the historical status and protection, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s great.'”
Another said, “The chickens roost right here in this tree next to my house. I welcome them.”
Chickens roosting in trees add ambiance.
City Council member Kay McAnally, who has “coordinated the efforts with residents to protect the chickens,” said, “Our tradition of wild chickens on Farm Street is a quaint and charming facet of Bastrop culture and part of what makes Bastrop the unique community it is.”
So there you have it. As a pseudo-journalist, I shouldn’t take sides. But I’ve woven so much opinion into this article that It’s not news–it’s op-ed.
So it’s okay for me to say I’m for the chickens.
They’re not all destructive. It’s true they can wreak havoc on a lawn, but my parents allowed my pet chicken the run of the back yard, and the grass remained lush and green.
My pet’s name was Dickie. My mother liked her more than I did, really. They visited through the screen door every morning while Mother worked in the kitchen, and when Dickie left poo on the porch, which was all the time, Mother just hosed it off.
Dickie gained a measure of notoriety in the neighborhood when she tried to hatch a cardboard box of charcoal briquettes she found on a table in the garage. When she refused to stop setting, Mother bought a half-dozen chicks from the hatchery in Luling, but, when she took them to Dickie’s makeshift nest, the hen squawked and flapped and said she wasn’t going to settle for a bunch of store-bought chicks. It was the briquettes or nothing.
That’s how we ended up with six baby chicks living in the kitchen closet beside the water heater. My father finally threw out the briquettes so Dickie wouldn’t set herself to death.
Just one of the little domestic dramas punctuating the timeline of my life.
But back to the Bastrop chickens. The national media may forget about them, but the story of the city’s Historic Chicken Sanctuary isn’t over till it’s over.
The City Council has agreed to put up Slow Chicken Crossing banners on one section of Farm Street. Chickens aren’t always slow in body, but when making decisions they tend to vacillate.
In April the mayor asked the Council Member/Chicken Coordinator to handle discussions between complainant and chicken supporters.
I think involving the Chicken Coordinator is wise. On the other hand, some people might think the mayor is being chicken.
In writing this story, I relied heavily on the interview with Bastrop’s mayor I heard on NPR this morning, and I used an article about the chickens carried by the online Statesman to check facts and add detail not aired in the radio interview. Any errors are either mine, NPR’s, or The Bastrop Advertiser’s. Anything that looks like plagiarism isn’t, and if it’s pointed out, I’ll change it. I’m sensitive about plagiarism.
I made up Slow Chicken Crossing myself. I don’t know what the real banners will say.
The articles listed below are suggested by an online app (extension? I don’t know about those things). It’s supposed to read what I write and bring up related material. Today’s results surprise me, because there’s nothing about chickens. There’s something about the Pope, about Volkswagen, about Scott Walker, and about the Apple Car.
There’s also something headed “Donald Trump: Enough With Nice!'” Now I’m wondering how Donald Trump and nice made it into the same sentence. It looks like he said nice, and that prospect makes me wonder who in his milieu is allegedly being nice. Donald himself is behaving like a boy bimbo. That’s not nice.
(I don’t know what the boy bimbo referenced. They times, they keep a-changin’. — June 2020)