Thursday, February 07, 2013

Chicken post of the day

Father Z has a post asking for a blessing on chickens (actually it is about blessing unhatched eggs that are delivered via the post office, and often damaged).

Ah, yes. Unhatched eggs. That brings back memories.

When we worked in Africa, usually the villages had some very mean chickens running around: The good news is that, like the fighting cocks in the backyards here in the Philippines, they were mean enough for the dogs to leave them alone. The bad news is that they would make a nest in the bushes and often the predatory birds or snakes would destroy most of them.

So one of our Nutrition Village outreaches was to encourage giving chicken eggs to children, and supplying high yield hybrid chickens for the villagers. The chickens were a mixture of local chickens, who had resistance to local disease, and European high yield chickens, which meant they laid a lot more eggs than the local chickens.

Cultural note: Usually the men were given the best food, and the first eggs. To westerners, this sounds horrible, since charity means you should feed the kids first. But the dirty little secret is that the man is needed to keep predators (both human and animals) away from the family, and to do the heavy field plowing with an oxen. If you lose the husband, the wife cannot support herself. Traditionally, the brother of the man or his nearest relative is therefore required to marry her, but if there is no one, or if he refused, the woman and her children will die, or maybe she will be sent back to her parents (and the kids, who belonged to the father's family, taken by his relatives to raise), or maybe she would flee to the mission to find work, or to the nearest town to become a prostitute. Nowadays, she might find a factory job instead, but when I worked there, few factories existed.

But with most of the men working in mines or in the cities, we instructed to give the eggs to the newly weaned children, who often developed protein malnutrition (kwashiorkor). We taught our mothers in the Nutrition village how to cage the chickens (with a screen so the dogs wouldn't frighten them).

Usually the eggs were either ready to hatch, or they were one day old chickens, who like babies didn't have to eat the first twenty four hours of life. So they were overnight-mailed to the nearest post office: alas, it was 30 miles away, by dirt road, so folks usually didn't get the message in time for the birds to be alive when they arrived two or three days later.

So Sister Patricia, who was recovering from Cerebral malaria and on light duty, would go with our ambulance and a few nurses to pick up the chickens, which came in shallow boxes.
On arrival, we put them in the meeting room, with lots of lights (for warmth) and cool water and a little grain to eat.
Have you ever seen 1000 baby chicks wandering around peeping?

We would sell them (at cost) to families for 25 cents for ten chicks. The chicks were "unsexed", meaning that the families would get a mixture of male and female chicks. The males would go into food when larger, and the females would be kept for egg-laying.

Another note: We "sold" them because anything given away was not valued, and some would simply go home and resell them. So we charged a fee for the hospital, and a fee for "free" donated clothing too. Usually the fee was low enough for people to pay. (for example, a childbirth was six dollars, about the same price as the local untrained midwife would require. But most women could brew a large oil drum sized batch of the local beer and sell it for that price, and many had husbands working in the mines or cities who would send the money.). If they didn't have money, we would require a relative to work in our large hospital garden: one day, one (local) dollar, and we usually gave them a couple pieces of clothing when they left, so they probably made money on the deal.... If they were really indigent, we would treat them gratis of course.

We had village health workers who screened local children for malnutrition, and sent mom to the Nutrition center for a month to feed them up. Once a child developed full fledged "Kwashiorkor", about half died no matter what you did (often of nutritional cardiomyopathy), and many of them ended up smaller, weaker, and intellectually slower than if they were treated before the damage was done.


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