COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KXAN) - Jesse Huth is 21 years old, but he still goes by the moniker, “Chicken Boy.”
The back story
“Everyone that knows me calls me, 'Chicken Boy,’” Huth told KXAN News back in 2004 , “'cause that's what I am, I'm Chicken Boy.”
In those days, Huth was a 13 year-old chicken wrangler. He had over 100 of them on the homestead he shared with his parents. He watched over them like a mother hen and when one of them died, he grieved, especially the first time it happened.
“It was real sad,” said Huth's mother, Jaci Kroupa, “and he cried and we made a little cross and, you know, took her down and put her in a special burial place.”
“I did cry a little bit,” the boy recalled then, “but you get over it after awhile. But if I ever lost all my chickens, I don't think I could handle it.”
Most of Huth’s birds, though, not only lived, they laid far more eggs than the family could munch, so Chicken Boy kicked off a little egg delivery business.
Too young to drive, he depended on his mom to get him from customer to customer.
Together, they managed some $30 a week in gross proceeds. Chicken feed, though, ran about $30 a week. You can do the math.
So why all the effort for a business that had little more to offer than busyness?
“I just like the way they look,” Huth explained then. “I just love chickens. I can't really tell you why; I just love the way they walk, the way they look, the way they act.”
Oh yeah, and the way they talk.
“There's kind of the announcement,” Huth said in 2004, “that, it's like, 'I just laid an egg in this box; come lay your egg.’”
With that the boy reared back and let loose with the most convincing squawking and clucking this side of the hen house.
Asked about his dreams, the child was emphatic.
“I hope to have the world's largest chicken business,” he said, “free range chicken business. I'm thinking of having a couple of million chickens. I love chickens.”
It was all just too cute for words, but no one really expected it would stick. Stick it did, though; it stuck like chicken poop to the bottom of a shoe. Nothing could shake it loose or pry it off.
The trip to Aggieland
When Huth graduated from high school, he ran like a hungry hen to College Station. Texas A&M University was the only college he applied to. Admission was a foregone conclusion and the major was, or course, poultry science .
Then, when Chicken Boy graduated from Aggieland in December, he stayed put, joining the university’s graduate program in chicken welfare and behavior.
Now, he works with faculty, conducting experiments into such things as how light affects the hatch rate of fertilized eggs.
Then, there are the stress tests, like the “inversion” test.
“You flip the birds upside down,” said the 21-year-old version of Chicken Boy, “and count how many wing beats they flap and how much time it takes for them to calm down.
“And then we compare that to other type of stress like changing the color of the feed or putting a strange object in the feed and seeing how long the birds take to get up.”
So why does anyone care about such things? In a word: Chillness.
“They all influence the ability to raise commercial chickens in large quantities,” Huth pointed out. “If you can reduce the amount of stress the birds have, they'll produce better; they'll be a lot happier; the people raising the birds will enjoy it more and overall you get a much better product for less price.”
In fact, you can take all this even further than that, using the test results to breed anxiety out of a given chicken population, especially the flocks a growing number of city-dwellers are putting into their back yards.
“If you're having a really stressed out chicken; it's flapping all over the place, hold them upside down by their legs,” said Huth, “and they'll flap a little bit and then they sort of go into a little catatonic state almost and just kind of lay there.
“A bird that would flap longer, for instance, might indicate that it's a little bit more stressed because it's trying to struggle against whatever the force is that's holding it, versus another bird that just sort of lays back would have less of a chance to be stressed.”
That, of course, would be the bird you want, so you would then mate it with a similarly laid back rooster. A few generations down the line you find yourself with a flock of chilled out critters.
“Currently everyone's just been breeding for either size in broilers or the ability to lay eggs in layer chickens,” Huth said, “which has resulted in, especially the layer chickens being very flighty. So they're very prone to stress.
“You get low-flying planes or something around the house, they freak out and go crazy and then that can visibly impact your production.”
But as Huth got more and more educated about the life of chickens, he came to understand that his 2 million bird free-range farm was all too childlike.
“I realized that that part of the market is pretty much already taken over,” he said. “There are massive farms out