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ESSAY: On Chickens


From The Breeze

by Hannah Eschelbach

Hannah Eschelbach tends the chickens at Montpelier High School this spring. Photo by Michael Jermyn.
Hannah Eschelbach tends the chickens at Montpelier High School this spring. Photo by Michael Jermyn.

They smell bad. They screech during test time. Inescapably loud.

Sometimes they escape and chase innocent, frightened freshmen. They will eat the garden if you let them roam around. With all the murals on the walls and people playing guitars right there in the hallways, this is a weird enough school without chickens.

I say this is a weird school because prior to this, I attended Spaulding High School in Barre — a monolith of a building surrounded by parking lots. There was no back garden to escape into. There was no greenhouse. Even with its superiority for sheer number and diversity of courses offered to Montpelier High School, Spaulding, as far as I can think of, had no science classes where you would actually go outside and look at live animals.

They’re Rhode Island Reds. Their feathers a blend of reddish-brown and gold, with bald patches since they won’t quit pecking each other. They look at you, permanently offended, with their dark round eyes. They don’t know how to walk humbly; they prance and strut. They’ll step on your feet and peck at your clothes, squawking and flapping their wings. Some of my classmates are afraid of them…well, chickens ARE the closest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I, however, am not. Loose threads and buttons on clothes are mistaken for food. They swarm around you because they think you’ll drop something for them to eat. They’ll fight each other sometimes, over food. But they hardly peck ME at all. When it’s time for me to collect the eggs, the hens usually move over and let me take them out of the nesting boxes. This is a good thing, since the teachers will buy the eggs after I’ve sanitized them. In turn, I give the hens the food and water that they think about every waking second. The teacher’s egg money pays me for my efforts.

I love those chickens. They’re a job, sure, but they’re also soft and fluffy and adorable. Even if I didn’t get paid I’d still visit them every day. My other not-having-gone-to-a-city-school classmates just ignore them, or throw to the hens the pieces of their lunches that they themselves don’t want to eat. I get weird looks when I come inside with hay on my shoes and carrying a bucket of eggs. They don’t get it.