© Copyright Chuck Bealke, 1997
When we first moved to the farm, we inherited about 200 chickens to care for. By today's standards that's a tiny bunch, but it sufficed for learning purposes. For those not familiar with these birds, let me share a few secrets. They are in no ways clever, are able in less than a day to produce a volume of rather unpleasant droppings that somehow seems about equal to their body weight, and if allowed out of the chicken house, must be protected from dogs and pigs as well as many of the wild creatures that roam the countryside. On the other hand, their needs are few, they readily produce the delightful oval packaged food without much ado, and they are hands down the most efficient of all farm inhabitants in converting feed into meat. As with many other farm chores, raising chickens is as much a delight to some as it is loathed by others. I was always rather partial to Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock varieties, but for good egg flavor the important thing seemed to be to raise the critters so that they get outside of the chicken house and peck and scratch around in the dirt. We used to feed table scraps to them (after we got rid of our hogs), and found they will eat almost anything. When you throw them a piece of watermelon that you've finished with, they will peck it way down into the rind.
My least favorite poultry recollection is cleaning out the chicken house. While chicken manure seems to have enough growing power to make grass sprout on billiard balls, the stuff will definitely make you wish you were elsewhere when you have to shovel it out onto a wagon. I've done my bit behind penned horses, cows and pigs, but chicken leavings have enough of an ammonia-flavored smell to put all competitors to shame. (Of course, in those days they did not have the big lagoons that some pig farms now clean out in the Spring - these can be awful.) Seems like no body kills their own chickens anymore. This is because the store-bought ones are a terrific bargain when you consider the work it takes to do the killing, defeathering, cleaning and cutting up. These are not fun jobs for the faint of heart or those on a busy schedule.
Just as snakes and other varmits like chicks, they are also fond of eggs. Many a farm dog has gotten into eating eggs, and much farm lore is spun around cures for breaking dogs (like using eggs emptied and filled with Tobasco sauce) and snakes (with golf balls or salt filled eggs) of their egg eating habits. We had an occasional Black Snake in the chicken house, but never had any chicken- or egg-eating problems with our dogs. Grown chickens are rather noisy when they have such intruders in their midst - enough to get you up at night and out of the house to find what the problem is. Aside from delicious eggs - supermarket types pale in comparison - and delicious meat when cooked young, my favorite memory of chickens is waking up to the sound of a rooster every morning. Beats the pants off an alarm clock or radio for a wake-up call.