From China Lily

{A 14th Century sea voyage}

More than once he had brought chickens on board ship for the voyage. He had been totally unprepared the first time to find the crew (and even the officers) were far more interested in having fresh meat than fresh eggs. They had barely been out of the site of land when some crewmen brought Matzerath two dead chickens. They said that they found the birds fighting and that they were so badly injured there was nothing to do but to wring their necks.

            The next time it was just one chicken. Matzerath was told that it had escaped and bashed its brains out trying to get out of the galley. Then there were four chickens, somewhat bloodied, and he was told the chip’s cat had got to them. By now he was down to just a few chickens, and was only mildly surprised when they turned up, in ones and twos, broken-necked near the crude coop he had built.

            He toyed with the idea of cooking them in some manner that would repel the crew, but the fact of the matter was that he enjoyed the feast himself.

            On a couple of other voyages Matzerath had constructed secure hen coops. He put two  layers of wire over the frame and put a lock from his own house on the door. He wore the key, along with others, around his neck. There would be no cats intruding and no chickens getting free to ‘kill themselves’ against the sides of the ship. And things went well – for a week.

            Matzerath began to find, one chicken at a time, the members of his flock at the entrance of his galley. The galley was meagre, with barely room for a fire, a preparation space, and some provisions. He was allowed to make hot meal only on Sunday and Wednesday. The ship could not carry much fuel and the crew was (rightfully) terrified of a fire breaking out. Matzerath always had to have an officer present to cook a meal. The flame was always dowsed with copious buckets of sea water when the cooking was done.

            The chickens appeared the days he was going to prepare a hot meal. As there was no pretense that the birds had escaped and died, they were plucked and cleaned. Since no one could abide waste on the shop, and because he took a generous portion of breast for himself, Matzerath cooked them without complaint. The carcasses guaranteed a soup for those who didn’t get much of the actual bird, and all went on as before. He eventually found out that some member of the crew, adept with tools as so many seamen were, had untwined and cut the wire in one corner of the coop. he effectively made a flap that he could undo and secure without it being noticeable.

            When Matzerath finally found this entrance, his supply of hens was so low that he did nothing. He had managed to have two months of eggs (which did not seem overly appreciated), and some meals of chicken that he himself enjoyed. He also realized that the contest between himself and the chicken thieves eased some of the boredom of the long voyage.

            His next time out at sea he also had chickens and a coop. He took pains to make it more secure, and his chickens lasted longer. However, the owners complained about the waste of the chicken feed at the end of the voyage.

            On the trip after that, his whole flock caught some disease within the first week.

The birds became bloated and stank within the same day they died. Their feathers were moist and puss formed where they were attached to the skin. There was no space in the coop to separate the ill birds from the others. The captain was swift in his judgement about getting rid of the corpses. He feared the disease might spread to his crew. He had seen ships overcome by a rapid wave of sickness.  Had it been further into the voyage, the crew might have eaten them but, as it was, Matzerath had to dump them over the side.