November 24, 2009

"I'm going to catch a chicken for you for your birthday."

Just one picture can bring back a thousand memories.

And today this picture of Rhode Island Red Chickens does just that to me.

You can find most of the Sibu or Miri wet market chickens of this breed which are physically sturdy and resilient. Furthermore they are fast growers and have more meat than other breeds. The hens lay huge tasty brown eggs. May be it was Rev. Hoover who introduced or chose the breed! Because it was after 1924 that this breed was introduced to the world from the USA. We will never know.

I do have sweet memories of backyard chicken rearing. My mother was good at it and we often had four or five of them with most of them freely walking in the yard. A few would sleep on the mango trees and one or two of the hens would have their coops. If we had a male bird we would enjoy the energetic and punctual crowing in the morning - announcement of the beginning of day. He would be the last to be slaughtered.

Whenever we had hens we would beg mum to allow them to lay eggs. We did have a few which laid eggs but most of the time they were slaughtered for food or given away as gifts to relatives. How handy it was to catch a chicken from the backyard and sending one (by bicycle) to an aunt's house for her birthday!

It was common Foochow or Chinese thing to say "I'm going to catch a chicken for your aunt's birthday." Translated it is "I need to buy a chicken as a gift for your aunt on her birthday." But it can really mean "going to the backyard and catching a chicken..."

Then I remember the one time when my father had to quickly grab his gun and run downstairs to the chicken coops and open fire!! There were three or four resounding shots and he came up huffing and puffing.

"Got the python!" He said.

I believe that was the only time I ever saw him making fast moves and behaving seemingly hurried. Most of the times he was very careful and measured in his movements. This was in Pulau Kerto in the Hua Hong Ice Factory.

The python was given to the ice mill workers who had a feast that night. Mother would not dream of having a single spoon of the snake soup. And we kids (then all below the age of 5) had already by then  curled up (coiled up??) in our wooden bed under the mosquito net.

Chickens always remind me of how well my mother got along with her own siblings and in -laws. She also had the opportunities to give gifts to her parents in law when they were alive. She would always remember their birthdays . And as was the fitting thing to do she would  always send a live chicken tied with a red piece of red cloth(a significant Chinese auspicious and blessing symbol)and two bundles of fresh mee sua.

This Foochow norm and token of love and appreciation would seal good relationships amongst the siblings and in-laws. More often than not it was always reciprocated too. Some definitely would have a poorer memory but all would be easily forgiven.

With these memories in my head I went to the wet market to have a look at chickens and ducks again. Failing to find anything interesting I went to Tamu Muhibbah and visited an old hawker friend of mine.

She had some small chicks for sale. Times are not so good for her. The Municipal Council is very strict on backyard chicken rearing in Miri and so her clientele has shrunken over the years.

She had at one time sold hundreds per week to mothers--in-law who would have to rear chickens for their daughter-in-law's confinement! Nowadays that kind of business seems to be a thing of the past especially in Miri. She thinks that modern young mothers are no longer as fortunate as young mothers of yesteryears when it comes to confinement.

Here are two photos I took of baby chicks - Bird's Eye View of Little Birds.

These Rhode Island chicks are RM2.70 each. They will develop their red and black plumes as they grow. Their meat would be RM10.00 per kg after four months of rearing. (By economies of scale the profit margin is too small for business.)

These chicks are RM2.40 each. They grow into the white feathered chickens which we know quite well.

So dear readers - the days of a relative bringing you a chicken for your birthday are over! Modern technology and urban administration have made so many of our social customs obsolete.

However I really wish I could rear chickens in my backyard and have chickens to give away.

But I do indeed have a good example of a great nephew. He diligently rears good confinement chickens for his wife whenever she is pregnant. She is indeed so blessed. Now that's a gold medal from me to him ....And he is a very busy professional. His Foochow roots are really good. (Smile).

There is a Foochow belief that if the chickens have more males in the brood then the baby would be a boy....More often it is very accurate!!

If one day you were be brought to a KFC outlet on your birthday you will remember that that is very Chinese - for we Chinese love to give chickens to the birthday girl or boy.

or at best we get sent  a cyberpicture of this:

What chicken stories do you have?


Jay said...

Interesting chicken story. For me, my parent rear ayam kampong. How to name it this ayam kampong in English? Lot of memories about ayam kampong. You know, these chicken just walk free around the house compound. When their chick are young, I use to catch them to be kept in a safe cage for the night. Every evening i will do that for their safety until they strong enough to take care for themself.

I use to curi the egg from there nest and boil them without my parent knowledge. Those eggs are infact very precious for us who live in the kampong.

Many more stories....bla..bla..

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Jay

Nice of you to visit. Ayam kampong is mainly the Bantam type according to the journals I read. However it is not that easy to determine the breeds also.

Nevertheless the Agriculture dept officers would know our Sarawak chickens best.

Ayam kampong are very tasty and their eggs very nutritious. So keep rearing them. Soup from the ayam kampong is good for every one and would keep them strong and clever. (Smile)

Ann said...

Hi CY,

We were not living in the farm/kampong, but our parents kept chicken and ducks.
I am told now the councils do not allow this any more.

later, we had the OW CHOW ZAI, the aussie hens.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann

Every family (even those living in shophouses) kept a few chickens secretly until their neighbours complained.

I believe we kept chickens until quite late into the 1970's!! Then the councils started to fine people for keeping chickens.

Now I remember the term Ow Chiu Gai...but aren't they the same as Rhode Island Red?

I can't keep chickens here in Miri because the MMC goes around to check..but shshshs..some of my neighbours still do and I am keeping long as the bad smell does not disturb my dinner!! Smile.

Ah Ngao said...

so far i haven't slaughtered a chicken it felt when you slit their throats? (you eyes blink or not?)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao

Sorry - from the age of 18 I refused to slaughter chickens. Also for two years after that I was a vegetarian until I fell ill seriously.

Today I still cannot see blood coming out of any animal.

I think a lot of people will close their eyes when they slit their throats. Smile.

Now you just go to the don't have to KILL.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cikgu
Nice grandmother keeps chickens in the kampong but they are so cute I cannot eat them.

I like chicken wings. But when during hols we go back home we bring old hens from Bintulu for pansoh. The big chickens of course for Hari Raya or Puasa month.
Usually we have hens for eggs for my grandmother.

Our chickens run free and sleep on the trees.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi K
Nice of you to visit. How is your holiday?

Yes definitely it is so easy to cook ready and dressingup chickens is always time consuming. I cannot do it honestly.

Especially when we have to cook five or six chickens at one time!! Nightmare plucking feathers!

I just love seeing free range chickens in the farms...they are so lovely...

Anonymous said...

hI Justin here....wish I could start a blog like you....but too busy ...

Nice to see those pictures of the chickens of Miri tamu. we stopped having chickens in the backyard for sometime because neighbours reported. Otherwise we could have our own corn fed chickens

Ah it is true what you say -- really fun to have our own chickens...also no trouble could cook one any time too.
Nice to remember good chicken stories. Thanks.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Jusin
Thanks for visiting. One day when you are less busy you will be able to do a blog.

Yeah chickens fed on jagung are really nice.

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