Chicken Sanctuary

chicken signLast Sunday was a beautiful spring day in Central Texas — even though it was the middle of January. We took advantage of the nice weather to drive over to Bastrop and check out the Colorado River Refuge, a nature preserve set up by a land trust.

After hiking along the river, defending ourselves from a territorial dachshund, and trying to tell if two bright red birds flitting among the trees were cardinals, we were hungry, so we meandered into Bastrop, looking for lunch.

Our approach to finding lunch wasn’t scientific; we were just driving around until we saw something interesting and local. Which is how we found ourselves on Farm Street. There weren’t any restaurants, but there was a series of golden banners hanging from the light posts that said:

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Farm Street Historic Chicken Sanctuary

We looked around, but we didn’t see anything that looked like some sort of official sanctuary for chickens. We didn’t even see a chicken coop. But we chickendid see a lot of chickens wandering through the yards and along the railroad tracks. Colorful chickens. Talkative chickens — the roosters didn’t seem to consider it inappropriate to crow at three o’clock in the afternoon. And they looked pretty historic to us.

Obviously, it was impossible to avoid stopping the car and getting out to take a few pictures.

In the days before the Internet, this phenomenon would have remained a mystery. But a quick google informed us that:

  • The chickens are wild — at least in the sense that they don’t belong to anyone.
  • They’ve been there for a long time.
  • The Bastrop City Council did indeed adopt a resolution proclaiming several blocks of Farm Street to be an Historic Chicken Sanctuary.

There’s a video about them on the Visit Lost Pines website.

The Austin American-Statesman wrote this all up last spring. Apparently someone complained about the chickens, saying that chicken droppings were health hazards. That got everyone else riled up and the sanctuary signs were the result.

Maybe I’ll move out to Bastrop. I’d like to live in a town where the response to snooty people who don’t like a little color and weirdness in their neighborhoods is an official thumb of the nose.

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Chicken Sanctuary — 8 Comments

  1. But there must be so much more! Is the Texas climate and the Bastrop environment such that chickens can survive without shelter? Do people have to feed them, or can they live off the landscape? What about predators? Vet care? Interment and memorialization (perhaps this is combined withi the predator issue)? Do the locals get to harvest select birds for chicken pot pie?

    • The chickens are apparently doing fine without official shelter, though I suspect they roost in the crawl space under houses and in abandoned buildings. They’re apparently pretty hardy, because there are quite a few of them and we had a really bad freeze a couple of winters back, not to mention record-breaking heat and drought. The predators don’t seem to have gotten the upper hand, though raccoons are very fond of chicken, as are dogs and snakes. I doubt any of them see a vet.

      If I lived in that block, I’d fix up a place or two that a hen might find attractive so that I could collect some eggs. But in this modern world, there are probably not too many people willing to wring a chicken’s neck for dinner. I understand the principle and my grandmothers could both do it, but I’m not sure I’d be willing. However, the ordinance making it a sanctuary doesn’t have any teeth in it, so I don’t suppose you’d get arrested for making coq au vin.

  2. Was this near the town of Bastrop, or out in the county? I have cousins who grew up in Elgin in the northern corner of Bastrop County.

  3. Given the markings on that pretty boy, I’d say these birds have a healthy dose of a particular chicken breed called Old English Game (read here for more info on the breed):
    http://www.mypetchicken.com/chicken-breeds/Old-English-Game-B78.aspx

    They’re pretty fiesty (after all, they’re a fighting breed). Perfectly designed for this sort of situation, a chicken breed that will take care of itself while adding a flash of color to the scenery. Love it.

    I do wonder how aggressive the roosters are, though. I’ve dealt with bantam roosters who were entirely convinced they were the toughest thing in the world and would take on humans who invaded their territory.

    • I used the zoom on my camera to get the picture just so I wouldn’t have to take on that rooster! Feisty roosters might well protect the rest of the flock from raccoons and such, so it’s probably a good thing they’re fighting birds.

      I couldn’t find the history of the chickens, but the fact that they’re on Farm Street leads one to believe that they are descended from what was once a farmer’s flock. Though if they’re fighting chickens, they might go back to an era when holding chicken fights was common in those parts. Maybe some cop busted up fights and the chickens escaped!