The Chickens (An exercise in transposing Orwell’s 1984)

  First they came for the chickens

and I did not speak out – because I was not a chicken…’

 

In the beginning they were as free as chickens could be. Each morning, copious amounts of grain were scattered about the decrepit concrete yard and they would be free to peck it up at their convenience. They’d emerge from the henhouse as soon as a farmhand slid open the door, their first goal to seek out a patch of dust in which to immerse their tousled feathers. They lived in blissful ignorance, unaware of the feelings of resentment that emanated from the other animals as they toiled through mindless drudgery, or were led across the yard for the last time, en-route to the abattoir.

Mr. Frederick had never liked the chickens. They got under his feet as he went about his chores and their grain was so expensive, he was barely breaking even. Egg farming just wasn’t profitable any more. The other animals’ jealousy was hindering the production of the farm. Something had to be done, and fast.

The door to the henhouse slid up, and as usual the chickens shuffled sleepily down the ramp, only to be confronted by a fence. It was not a particularly high fence but, since Mr. Frederick had clipped their wings overnight, it was high enough. The ground was conspicuously absent of grain, and the chickens scratched aimlessly at the cracked concrete. Eventually, when the sun was sinking over the horizon and the bellies of the chickens were protesting their emptiness to the world, Mr. Frederick appeared with a small bucket of grain, grain that was crawling with weevils and green with mould. The chickens, starving as they were, fell upon the poor quality food, pecking and scratching each other in their haste. The sun winked one last time before disappearing behind the hills as Gobbler, one of Mr. Frederick’s favourite Rottweilers, crept into the barn where the majority of the farm’s animals slept.

“I suppose all of you have noticed the predicament of the chickens,” he said. “Do not feel sympathy. The chickens have been stealing food from your mouths.” The other animals bayed their agreement. “All Mr. Frederick is doing is moving the chickens into a separate area so they no longer hinder our production rate, and reducing their expenses.” With that, Gobbler left the barn and returned to guard the farmhouse door. The next morning, the animals went about their business without a thought for the plight of the chickens. After all, Gobbler had made it all seem quite reasonable.

After a week had passed, the chickens’ emaciated forms were a cause for concern. The other animals found it difficult to remain unperturbed by such a sight, and were often distracted in their work. The eggs the chickens produced were poor, and some had stopped laying altogether.

One dismally damp afternoon, Mr. Frederick and his farmhands converged on the chicken enclosure, dressed in long rubber gloves and wellington boots. Each grabbed two chickens roughly by the yellow stalks that were once healthy legs. They swung them by their sides as they strode towards an unused barn, one that the farmhands had been busily working on throughout the week. As they entered the gloomy depths of the building, thunder rolled and lightning flashed, illuminating, for a mere moment, the glistening metal of the blades arrayed before them and the stack of compact chicken-wire cages. Through a door left ajar, the chickens glimpsed a small room, empty but for a stump of wood that held a freshly-sharpened axe. Coldly and clinically, the men de-beaked the chickens, snapped a numbered ring of plastic around their left legs, and then stuffed them three to a cage.

Gobbler again visited the other animals, this time to inform them that Mr. Frederick had discovered that the chickens were able to provide a vital service, one that would give them an edge over Foxwood and Manor Farm, and they had been moved to the barn to allow them to work uninterrupted.

With each day that passed, the chickens were force-fed large quantities of grain. Some chickens developed infections in the wounds where their beaks had been, others developed problems with their legs from standing in their own excrement. Never were the chickens let out, except to be carried into the room with the axe. Carried to their deaths.

 

‘First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew…’

-Pastor Martin Niemöller

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