Central Arkansas farmer's side project: Filming chicken music videos

Posted: October 8, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated: October 9, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

David Boyett shows one of the chickens from what he calls the “world’s smallest petting zoo” in Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood on a recent Saturday.

Chickens make David Boyett happy. Especially if a bird plinks out a tune on a toy piano and boogie-woogies to the beat.

Boyett, a chicken rancher from Perry County, trained one member of his brood to do just that. In a video Boyett posted on YouTube, a gray silkie breed rooster named Rudy pounds the yellow plastic key with his feet and beak.

Then, Rudy "dances" for a piece of fruit. It's less of a woogie, more of a wing flap, and Boyett clucks with delight. The video, one of the 42 he's posted, is one of his favorites.

On a Saturday in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock, a keen shopper might spot Boyett, clad in a chicken-themed T-shirt, a few hundred yards down from the farmers market.

Visitors to Boyett's stand can enjoy the "world's smallest petting zoo," a pen with a couple of speckled chickens. On a recent Saturday, Boyett was accompanied by Horace, Dame Butternut and Doozie.

At his stand, Boyett sells eggs and postcards. He'll also perform a marriage, if someone asks. A painted board displays an equal sign, the international symbol for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Boyett hawks the eggs to make up the cost of feed. A customer offers what she thinks is a fair price. If someone's in need, there's no charge, he said.

"If I can't spare the eggs, I've got bigger problems," Boyett said.

At his home in the shadow of the Ouachita Mountains, Boyett looks after his roster of roosters, hens and chicks. He runs the DVB Nonprofit Chicken Ranch. The V stands for Virginia, his wife.

The ranch isn't a registered nonprofit but has been "proudly not making a profit since 2006," according to the business cards Boyett distributes.

His chicken obsession began with Virginia. She wanted the birds as a way to keep the ticks down. The first flock they bought -- a gaggle of buff Orpingtons -- emigrated to his neighbor's farm.

"They had no sense of loyalty," he said.

Virginia soon soured on the fowls. She had envisioned the birds without their accompanying smell, or their penchant for nibbling grass until the yard is bare, Boyett said.

But his love for the birds only grew. Boyett started filming music videos with the chickens, and he trained the birds to perform tricks. A chunk of apple or papaya will encourage a hesitant hen to hop, he explained.

In the videos, Boyett dabbles in chart toppers and showstoppers. In a rendition of Taylor Swift's upbeat earworm "Shake it Off," his chickens appear to bob and peck in rhythm with the teenage anthem.

At the chorus, when Swift urges listeners to "shake it off," a chicken ruffles its feathers, unleashing a plume of dust.

In another clip dubbed "Ova Chikria," an ode to Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria," a chicken opens its beak and seems to belt the Latin lyrics.

Movie parodies include Flockalypse Now and a Chikrassic Park series.

Raising the birds became Boyett's full-time job after he suffered some health problems. He used to work at St. Francis House, the social outreach arm of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas. After leaving the organization, Boyett focused on his birds and scouted places to unload the eggs.

At one point, he ended up at a PetSmart. Boyett said he'd take along a docile rooster named Beauregard.

Together, they sold eggs, including blue ones laid by a few "Easter Egger" chickens that can produce the hue, he said.

It took a month for employees to, reluctantly, kick him out.

After his ouster, Boyett rooted himself in the 2400 block of Kavanaugh Boulevard.

To passers-by, Boyett says hello or calls them "sis" with affection. He compliments a neat tattoo and talks up his videos to eager listeners while dehydrated dogs drink from a water dish he lays out, free of charge.

Boyett said he always expected someone to tell him to go. Three years and one encounter with a poultry commissioner later, he's still waiting.

If someone does say scram, he won't take it personally, Boyett said. He'll just find another perch for his dancing, doted-on chickens.

Metro on 10/08/2017