Monday, December 04, 2006
Forget Polonium-210: Fear the Zombie Chickens 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Have you seen the recent "CNN 360° Special Edition with Anderson Cooper" lede on the radioactive toxin that felled former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko? "It’s potent, poisonous and puzzling. How did Polonium 210 become an assassin's weapon of choice? Find out if it can ever be used against you?"

Hold, reality check please. Now, it's hardly the assassin's "weapon of choice" - heck, if a bullet was good enough for journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a bullet's probably good for most of us unfortunate enough to the victim of assassins. Considering society's overall misplaced conception of risk, and that radioactive isotope's rarity and costliness, I hardly see the need for polonium-210 to make our personal fear checklists. You know what we really need to worry about?

Zombie chickens. Yes, you read that correctly. However, if you're about to take a bite out of a nice juicy drumstick right now, I'd suggest you put it down - or skip this post.
When Jim Stauffer of Petaluma saw a chicken crawling out of a mound of compost like the living dead, he knew something had changed at the egg farm next door. "We called them zombie chickens," Stauffer said. "Some of them crawled right up out of the ground. They'd get out and stagger around."

What changed was the method used to get rid of "spent hens," which are chickens that no longer produce eggs. And the change isn't just in Petaluma; it's throughout the country.
As a last resort, many farmers have turned to killing the chickens and using them to make piles of compost. Hens are placed in a sealed box which is filled with carbon monoxide. Within seconds the chickens are unconscious. Less than two minutes later, they die from lack of oxygen. Farmers say the method for euthanizing and composting the chickens is humane and health officials say they have heard no complaints.
"There's not a lot of difference between euthanizing them on the ranch or hauling them to the slaughterhouse," said Arnie Reibli of Petaluma, who sells more eggs than anyone in Northern California.

Robin and Skip White, who live near the same chicken ranch as Stauffer, said they've had a half-dozen chickens escape from the ranch when it changes its stock and join their flock over the past seven years.
They didn't know about the new composting method, but their latest arrival, which they've named Survivor, showed up around the same time as the first composting operation. The all-white chicken "looked like it had been pulled through a knothole" because it had worn its feathers off moving around in the cage where it was kept while it produced eggs, Robin White said.
"People's eating habits have changed," Reibli said. "A chicken in every pot - that was Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Those were stewing hens. But people don't cook like that any more."

[read full article at the Santa Rosa [CA] Press-Democrat >> via Slashfood]