John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

A Bird’s-Eye View

That whole “the sky is falling” thing was blown out of proportion. And for the record, I crossed the road for personal reasons.

Yep, you’re reading chicken scratch. Literally. Your usual commentator, Jack Fisher, flew the coop. Maybe he’s hen-pecked at home, but more likely I’m littering his space because he’s been running around like a chicken with its head … Uh, he’s been busy. So he’s letting me rule this roost despite my reminder we chickens are incapable of reasoned thought. “No problem,” he told me. “Just wing it.”

I’m here to answer some questions about my accommodations. America houses around 280 million of us chickens indoors. With more than 25 million here in Ohio, our state is second in the nation. Our houses have all the modern amenities: computers control temperature, humidity, ventilation, air quality and lighting to the tiniest degree. Our buildings are bio-secure, meaning visitors are limited to keep us healthy.

Inside the barn, we live in what’s called separated wire housing. These cages keep us in colonies, our natural social structure. Birds of a feather flock together because we like to. Caging also protects us from a rather unsavory inborn trait. Among chickens, “pecking order” isn’t just a euphemism. Dominant birds will eat all my food, or worse, eat me. Cannibalistic chickens find me just as tasty as you do.

Room service around here is pretty good. I’ve got water 24/7 and nutritionally perfect feed is delivered right in front of my beak. My droppings fall away from the cage, keeping my quarters clean. And when I fulfill my purpose in life, my eggs roll gently from the cage so I don’t crack them and waste a day’s work.

So life around the hen house ain’t all bad. But truly enquiring minds want to know one thing. Am I happy? Considering I don’t have human emotions, it’s a bird-brained question. But you’ve tolerated this silly premise this far, so why stop now? Think about this: If you primates are stressed, uncomfortable or frightened, you’re not very productive. Me either. Compared to your grandpa’s back-yard birds, I produce nearly twice the number of eggs, with more uniform quality, and I’m about eight times more likely to live out my productive life. By those measurements, I’m not just happy, I’m egg-static! Sorry.

But enough about me. Here’s what’s in this for you: 75 billion fresh eggs a year that can be collected, cleaned, weighed, graded, inspected, packaged or processed and shipped within hours of when I’ve done my part. You get eggs for salad dressings, cakes, ice cream, bread and thousands of other foods. And of course, you get eggs you can boil, fry, scramble, poach or devil.

To be fair, my way isn’t the only way to put eggs on your plate. Some of my hen friends live alternative lifestyles, where they have the run of the barn or even live outdoors. And I’m OK with that. As long as we of the avian persuasion are treated appropriately, what really matters is choice. Farmers should get to choose the way they raise us. You should get to choose which of those ways you’re comfortable with. And everyone should have choices they can afford.