Home Commentary State of Mind: The Curious Case of the Frozen Chickens

State of Mind: The Curious Case of the Frozen Chickens

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A couple of weeks ago, my dear spouse came across an interesting headline in the web news: “Owner Freaks Out When All Her Chickens Freeze Simultaneously.”

The story was posted by Jeanne Moos of CNN. If, like me, you’re of an older persuasion, you may remember Jeanne Moos in the late 1970s as an upstart news reporter for NBC’s affiliate in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Channel 5 WPTZ. She was in fact the station’s first female news correspondent. Moos did a good job during her stay in Plattsburgh and worked her way up the career ladder. In 1981 she joined CNN and is now a national correspondent based in New York City. Moos always has an eye for, shall we say, quirky stories.

As someone who has raised both turkeys and chickens, I was intrigued by that headline. I knew that chickens are susceptible to extremely low temperatures during which they can suffer frostbite injuries to their wattles, combs, and toes. That is why I insulated my henhouse when I built it. I also tried to provide a heat lamp and a heater for the water tray when temperatures dropped below zero. But to have chickens freeze “simultaneously” seemed bizarre. 

According to Moos, the owner of the chickens, Brianna Antionette, was new to raising poultry, so new in fact that she had given all five of her Plymouth Barred Rock hens the same name — Pepper — because they all looked alike. So I reasoned that, being a newbie to the world of raising chickens and if she lived in some place like Yakutsk in Siberia (supposedly the coldest inhabited city on earth. I just checked, and the temperature this morning in Yakutsk was minus 52 F) or maybe even Saranac Lake, she could have made some mistake in protecting them from the elements and her flock could easily and quickly have turned into frozen chicken nuggets.

But then Moos pointed out that Antionette lived in a suburb of Tampa, Florida, so the whole freezing thing took on a new dimension. It rarely gets cold enough in Tampa to frost, let alone freeze. Yet the video Antionette posted did not lie. There are her hens in their enclosure in the back yard — motionless. To no avail Antionette implored them to go about doing chicken-y things such as scratching around and chasing food. The chickens remained frozen in place!

When asked by Moos what ran through her mind at that point, Antionette replied, “I thought Jesus was coming back.”

The chickens stayed frozen for over two minutes, at which point Antionette called for her fiancé in the house to come see what was happening (or, in this case, what was not happening). It was then the chickens suddenly sprang back to life and began running around the enclosure. 

Antionette’s fiancé quickly diagnosed the cause. A hawk that had already killed several of Antionette’s flock was perched in a tree above the enclosure. Even though the hens now were protected by a grid of fishing line over the enclosure to prevent the hawk from swooping down on them, the hens were taking no chances and instinctively froze to make themselves ‘invisible’ to the predator. As long as the hawk remained above in the tree, the chickens would not so much as twitch.

So the mystery of the frozen chickens was solved. It was just predators and prey doing what they were hard-wired by nature to do.

Still, it got me thinking about human affairs. Lately the members of Congress seem to run around like chickens with their heads cut off. What if we were to build perches in the halls of the Capitol and install some chicken hawks. We could keep these perches covered until things below really get out of hand and the congresspeople are on the verge of doing something even dumber than usual. Then the covers on the perches could be removed and, like Antionette’s chickens, Congress would freeze. 

But my plan raises some important questions. Can chickens without heads see and fear chicken hawks? And from what I’ve read about Congress’s performance last year, it may have been the least productive session in the history of the country. So would freezing Congress by displaying chicken hawks really have any effect when they have repeatedly shown they are willing to shut down the government rather than work like a flock? 

As the late Gilda Radner’s character ‘Emily Litella’ on SNL’s Weekend Update would say, “Nevermind!”