A review of ‘Chicken People’ documentary

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If you haven’t seen it yet, but have even a small interest in chickens, or, better yet, a love of chickens, you may want to check out “Chicken People,” a 2016 documentary, which is available through Amazon prime. I’m not sure why I hadn’t heard of the documentary until now, given that it is from 2016, but, as soon as I saw it recommended by Amazon Prime today, I knew I had to watch it.

The documentary primarily follows three people (two men and one woman) who are among thousands of others who breed chickens and enter them in competitions, including the Ohio National Poultry Show.

Many chicken breeders, including those who keep chickens as house pets, are interviewed for the documentary. Besides seeing what makes these “chicken people” tick, which largely seems to be a fondness of chickens, there are also lots of camera shots of the competing chickens, from hens with a “here-we-go again attitude” as they are poked and prodded by judges to roosters with an “I’m the only rooster worth looking at” expression in a row of cages of almost identical roosters.

The film does a nice job of capturing the overall spirit of competition, from what drives the competitors to breed literally thousands of chickens in the pursuit of the perfect chicken to prepping chickens for judging with blow dryers for fluffing and other beauty measures. We also learn a bit about the family and work lives of each of the three highlighted competitors; each of whom are so open about their love for their animals and so dedicated to what they do, that it’s hard not to root for each of them to have a bird that snags at least one trophy.

Those not terribly familiar with chickens might also find it surprising to see how many varieties of chickens there are, with some of the more exotic ones barely resembling what most people think of when they hear the word “chicken.”

The documentary doesn’t delve too deep into the differences between breeds, which would probably be too complex to try to explore in what is overall a light and cheerful portrait, and would likely take away from the focus on the competitors. Instead, it helps give a cursory understanding of what judges are looking for when making decisions about which chickens are the closet to being perfect standards. These standards are noted as being in-depth (examples include feather color, beak shape, stance, comb directions, shape of various body parts,  and size) and specific to each breed. Those who have chickens as pets or are chicken fanatics (or “chicken-aholics” as one chicken lover jokes in the documentary), will likely find themselves taking note of multiple types of chickens they would love to add to their flocks while watching the documentary. I know I saw more than a few I wouldn’t mind giving a home to, except that I promised myself to keep my backyard flock small.

I do think “Chicken People” doesn’t quite take enough of a look at the chickens and their often endearing personalities. There is some adorable footage of a broody chicken who is lying on a round-shaped spoon, seemingly looking forward to hatching it.  Another moment that stands out is a little girl kissing a chicken with curly feathers the way one would normally expect to see a child cuddling with a kitten. But, while the documentary  does an outstanding job of focusing on the  people in the chicken world, it doesn’t really focus on the chickens in a way that lets viewers connect with the animals. If I hadn’t gone into viewing this documentary with a love for my own chickens and experiences raising my own little flock, I don’t know if I would have really understood the attraction to chickens or why or how people come to feel such a close bond with these free-spirited creatures, which are often simply seen as livestock.

Maybe, and especially as the number of people keep backyard chickens grows, someone will make a documentary that explores that relationship between human and chicken as human and pet.

Still, “Chicken People,” which has a runtime of 83 minutes and is directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes,is an entertaining and informative look into the competition aspect of the chicken world, a nice step in the direction toward hopefully more looks at chicken raising, and definitely worth checking out.

For more information, you can check out the trailer (below) or visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_People :

Featured image from: http://www.cmtpress.com/program/chicken-people/images/