What if one of our future politicians presses the Armageddon button in the mistaken belief that he is ringing for his butler to bring up some curly fries? In the nuclear winter that would inevitably follow this international faux pas, a serious question would arise: Who’s going to feed the chickens? And more to the point, what are they going to feed them?
In a Google-free world, where would we get the information needed to feed the planet’s estimated 18 billion domestic fowl? Certainly, we could turn to the folk wisdom of the wall-eyed, zombie-apocalypse loons who always come to the fore in troubled times (See Stephen King’s The Stand)—some of whom will claim to speak several dialects of chicken.
I can’t see how asking the unhinged will prove fruitful. So I have put together basic information which you can print out and keep in your survival notebook—the one stowed in your nuclear bunker on the shelf above the 8,000 tins of puréed sweetcorn.
Watching these descendants of the dinosaurs randomly peck the ground and each other with equal indifference, it’s tempting to think chickens are so dumb you could feed them anything. Indeed, historically, hens were fed kitchen scraps and stale bread.
The list of stuff chickens actually eat may surprise you. Grain of course, natural or formed into pellets and bugs. But also snakes, frogs, fruit and mice! I daresay they’d not turn their beaks up at a daily diet of Mr. Kipling’s individual Eccles Cakes.
One thing you must never feed a chicken though is an avocado. These are deadly to chicken-kind. In fact, didn’t Agatha Christie write a thriller called ‘Death By Avocado’?
Chickens need a diet that provides the bio-chemical raw materials for making eggs. For this they need fresh water of course and the vitamins and minerals contained in their food. They also need oyster shells and grit. Without the calcium provided by the shells, their eggs will not be strong enough and the hens will lay soft eggs. Without grit they cannot compensate for being toothless—the grit they eat lies in a part of their digestive tract called a gizzard. As food passes through it, the particles of grit help grind down and digest their food.
Free-range hens are the trend setters of the chicken world. Your average, thoroughly modern chicken-about-town on a night out with the girls (the origin of the phrase ‘hen party’) might have a banana, a handful of grass clippings, half a frog, some oyster shells and grit with a side salad of cabbage leaves. This might be followed by something from the creepy crawly trolley. There’d be no alcohol—hens are teetotal.
Will there ever be a Chickenfeed Diet for humans? Something to challenge Atkins or Weight-watchers? Well, as Charles Darwin said when he strode down the gangway of the Beagle with a bread-plant under each arm, ‘Ain’t evolution a bitch.’ And he was right. Humans do not have gizzards and the only consequence to eating stones would be to make our teeth look like a row of abandoned toilets in a Skid Row doss house. Chickenfeed diet? It’s not going to happen.
Any diet based on an organ you don’t have, filled with stones you can’t digest is surely doomed to failure. I suspect that were you crazy enough to try you would find your weight unchanged during week one as your brain tried to figure out why you were apparently hell-bent on committing suicide. Somewhere during week two your brain would reluctantly accept your death wish and cause a precipitous weight loss of two and a half stone. By week three, of course, you’d be dead.