Jessica Blanks knew something terrible had happened when she walked into her garage and saw a pile of chicken feathers on the ground.
When she went over to check on the flock she and her husband Neil recently ordered, she quickly grabbed the phone and called a veterinarian: Her Golden Campine hen, Kitty Cat, had been attacked by some kind of predator. She was alive, but one of her wings had been torn off in the fray.
“We called the vet to see what we should do and to find out if a chicken could live with only one wing,” Jessica, 24, said. “Since most vets usually see cats and dogs, he didn’t know. He told me, ‘If the `injury` is that bad, why don’t you just put it down? It’s just a chicken.’ I was like, ‘Just a chicken?!’”
To Jessica and the 135 members of Pet Chickens of Texas, chickens are much more than automatic egg dispensers or finger-lickin’ goodness with a side of mash. To them, chickens are feathered friends and family members like any other household pet.
“`Chickens` are so pretty,” says San Antonian and PCOT member Tara Gruber, who keeps her four hens in a coop in her backyard. “They walk around like living garden art. Plus, they control the bug population and provide great fertilizer for my vegetables.”
“When people think of chickens, they think of a regular white or brown chicken — something that looks like Foghorn Leghorn,” Jessica adds. “But there are so many breeds of chickens. I think there’s a chicken for everybody. They can be as pretty as peacocks and parrots.”
To help educate people about chickens and the benefits of keeping them as pets, Jessica, who lives in San Antonio and is the president of PCOT, started the group last December. She came to love the idea of pet chickens when she heard her grandmother talk about growing up on a farm in Rancho Cordova, California.
Neil Blanks didn’t fancy the idea of a dog or cat leaving pet dander everywhere, but Jessica was able to convince him to buy a few chickens they could raise in their small backyard. Compared to dogs and cats, chickens are low-maintenance and will keep their owners out of the egg aisle at the grocery store for most of the year. As Neil puts it: “At least you get something out of it.”
Neil and Jessica adore their chickens, as do their kids, 5-year-old Hayden and 3-year-old Zoe, who have fun running around the backyard “terrorizing” their favorite hens. Each of the Blanks’ 19 pet chickens has its own personality, Jessica says, from Kashi, a Golden Lakenvelder, who sometimes stares off into space for hours, to the family’s Ameraucana hen, affectionately named Evil Toe Biter (ETB for short), who is more aggressive with people who wear sandals.
Despite some foul behavior from some of the fowl, Jessica thinks she and Neil are at the top of the pecking order. Third on the list is their oldest hen Dot, a Barred Plymouth Rock breed, who proves that chickens are just as loving as any other domesticated pet. “Dot is the boss chicken,” Jessica said. “She is my baby. If I’m sitting down in the backyard, she’ll come and lay down next to me. She will sit on my lap and attack anyone I talk to. I call her my Chog (chicken-dog).”
Dot was one of three original hens the Blanks purchased from Ideal Poultry, a hatchery in Cameron, Texas. Although only three were ordered, Jessica and Neil arrived at a local post office and picked up a crate stuffed with 12 chickens — three hens and nine roosters. Because chickens can get too cold and die during shipping, most hatcheries like Ideal will include a handful of males for warmth. Of the Blanks’ 19 pet chickens, only one, Chicken Chicken Bok Bok, is a rooster.
“We call `roosters` packing peanuts,” Jessica said. “Unless you are breeding your chickens, the males are totally useless. In a lot of hatcheries, they just kill them. Nobody buys them unless they’re going to eat them or breed them. We gave a few to our neighbors and Neil and his dad ended up eating the rest of them.”
Yes, Neil and Jessica’s diet does, ironically, include chicken. Although she would never eat her own chickens, poultry in general is usually on the menu during the week.
“I guess it doesn’t make sense, but I like chicken,” Jessica said as she savored a plate of chicken enchiladas at Las Palapas. “I think most of our members eat chicken. I know we’ve got one that is a vegetarian, but it doesn’t bother her.”
Simply put: Jessica is not an activist wanting to make a statement about the troubles of chickens. PTOC was not formed as a splinter organization of PETA and is not interested in petitioning outside hatcheries to fight for animal rights. They just want people to know that in addition to cuddly puppies and adorable kittens, there is always a pet chicken out there waiting to be loved.
“I don’t like to get involved with that kind of stuff,” Jessica said. “I just want to have my chickens and be happy.” •