Polish chickens seem to have gone home to roost.
At least they almost disappeared from the poultry shops - thanks in part to the American embargo on feed grains.
Polish chicken farmers are rapidly being put out of business. Cattle farmers, too, are having to slaughter their animals because of a lack of adequate feed for them.
What little poultry can be found on the ''free'' market is far from free. A small chicken costs about 600 zlotys ($7.50 at the official exchange rate). That's far beyond the reach of most Poles, who have an average monthly wage of 7 ,000 zlotys, plus some modest compensation for the recent 400 percent increase in the prices of essential foods.
For most Poles, just buying the modest rations of basics like meat (51/2 pounds monthly, of which some 2 pounds is supposed to be chicken), butter, coffee, and so on mops up at least 25 to 30 percent of their wages.
Before martial law, the poultry industry was earmarked for a 7 percent boost in production this year. But US sanctions on sales of feed grains to Poland have dealt poultrymen a body blow. Under present conditions, they could be out of business altogether by April.
An American farming expert told this writer a month ago tPat of up to 8,000 private farms specializing in poultry, not more than 1,000 might hope to survive. The picture may be even bleaker by now.
At least two-thirds of the nation's eggs are produced by the private sector. So are more than 90 percent of all birds put on the market.
But state farms with sizable chicken operations are being hit, too. An acquaintance here who has a relative working on a state farm in western Poland says all but four of its 30 big chicken houses are shut down. That means his job is in jeopardy.
Nothing is known here yet of any likely follow-up to the reported suggestion March 12 by Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagle-burger that US sanctions might be relaxed to enable shipments of feed grains (and spare parts for tractors, badly needed as spring planting nears) as huma itarian food aid. Such aid is exempt from the American restrictions.
Obviously this would be welcomed. The reduced intake of eggs and poultry on an already inadequate national diet is worrying nutritionists.
The Russians are providing additional quotas of barley, which can be used as chicken feed. But it means lower productivity and is not an adequate replacement for the US corn and soybean meal on which the Polish industry has been built up.
The last American shipment -- completing the 1981 purchases possible under Commodity Credit Corporation arrangements -- arrived in late January. The Polish authorities already were reducing the hatch, and production of broilers is said to be at a standstill.
The new agricultural year is beginning under the worst possible conditions. Not only chicken flocks but also cattle herds are being reduced to conserve on feed grains.
From the consumers' point of view the worsening food situation was illustrated March 16 by the government daily Rzeczpospolita (Republic), which commented on the spectacle of cheese apparently going begging in the shops and markets.
The newspaper did not explain why. But everyone knows. Cheese, a valuable protein source, costs up to 240 zlotys a kilogram ($3 for 2.2 pounds). Most Poles do without.