Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Life With Chickens Part Four

Click here for parts one, two, or three

In part three I talked about the serious business chickens can be.  I also hinted at the lessons I learned from the experience…in this part I promise sex…there will be lots of sex…and Violence…yes lots (PETA supporters..I would not read this if I were you)…and Love…those people who know me…know I don’t speak publicly about love…but this is special…Now Lets Talk CHICKENS.


My Dad began our chicken experiment with 12 Bantam Cochins.  This is a Chinese breed of chicken..small (that is what Bantam means) weighing just under 1.5lbs. (.6kg).  They are excellent brooders…that is they sit on their eggs quickly.  We should talk about this sitting on eggs thing.

A Hen will lay an egg and appear to ignore it.  The chicken knows that one egg won’t make it in nature…so they lay several before sitting on the nest.  Once they sit they will not lay another egg until the brooding cycle is complete…in other words until the eggs are supposed to hatch….which is about 21 days.  The Cochin is annoying about this.  That is why it is so important to gather the eggs everyday.  The Cochin lays an egg per day.

The Cochin is probably the best chicken for kids…they are super docile.  Even the Rooster with a hen present is laid back.  The only time things get ugly is when the hen sits on her eggs…she won’t don’t matter that the eggs are not fertilized…she will not move.  They are freaky that way.

It wasn’t long after we got the first 12 chickens that my Dad wanted to start breeding them.  He didn’t want the hens to stop laying eggs so he bought an electric hen…more commonly called an incubator. This electric hen would rotate the eggs and keep them at the proper temperature for growing a chick.

Determining whether the egg was fertilized was really cool…requiring the use of a low tech x-ray machine (see pic).  I call it the Eggs Ray Machine….hehehe…ok. My Dad kept the incubator in my room…it was quiet and since lives hung in the balance I did not touch it.

Eggs Ray Machine

At the first sign of a crack in the eggs my Dad would move all the eggs to a box that had a light bulb in it.  My brother and I would watch the chicks break out of the eggs…but we did not help them…they either got out of that egg on their own…or croaked.  Nature knows best.

My Dad allowed me to pick out a new type of chicken to add to our growing flock.  I chose the Mottled Houdan…yes a French Chicken.  They were really cool with their Afro style crests.  Very noisy…but not aggressive. They are a fairly rare breed of chicken here in the U.S.  That made it easy for me to win quite a few ribbons.  All was quiet in the chicken world…that is until my Dad bought Satan!

Satan came in the form of a full size Rhode Island Red Rooster.  That rooster was so tough that he couldn’t be kept in a cage…he would just beat the heck out of you when you tried to feed or water him…he was the first chicken to get free run of the yard. That chicken taught me one of the biggest life lessons ever.

We owned two types of dogs…one was a full size German Shepherd named “Princess”…there were several Princesses over the years…and each one was a pussycat.  The others were beagles. The Beagles don’t count in this story.  The German Shepherd does.

Princess loved us…strangers not so much…that rooster..not at all.  When the rooster was first let out, Princess ran down to say “Hello..lets be buddies”…the rooster’s response was to smack the howl out of that dog.  Princess was no longer allowed to travel our property at will…the rooster had staked his claim..and that dog let him be.

Nothing could move without coming under attack…Geese..slapped silly…Squirrels…knocked nutty…Rabbits had the fur kicked out of them.  Me..I had to endure the embarrassing harassment of a chicken flapping at my legs as I went to feed the other chickens.  He was way too annoying. As I have said…roosters are not unarmed.

Here is a story from my buddy Goof and his encounter with a rooster.

“Then there was the roosters. There were two. And they were the spawn of Satan. 

Every morning I'd have to go down and feed the chickens. Every morning those damn roosters attacked me. 

I'd come flying back towards the house flinging chicken feed behind me like it was some kind of magical protection against demonic roosters. My grandfather laughed every morning. He thought it was funny, until the morning when one of those Hell Birds managed to spur me in the side of the head. It missed my eye by a couple inches and brought blood.”

Roosters taught me that size means nothing…attitude means everything.  Our Rhode Island Red met his end when he attacked my sisters.  Dad gave him to the next door neighbors…they ate chicken salad that night.

Many people make the mistake in believing chickens are unarmed…oh this is so not right.  The rooster as I have told you is armed with spurs…but the Hen…she has claws.

Our property was bounded on two sides by a deep dark forest we called “The Woods”.  Parts of it was hardwood…part pine…it had a creek and a swamp.  Bad things lived there…the most common bad thing was snakes.  There were Black Snakes..they are constrictors..The Copperhead…poisonous and sneaky…and of course the Cotton Mouth Water Moccasin..poisonous and sneaky. There were many others…but those were the big three.

It was common to go outside and see a stick..or garden hose that looked out of place..and sometimes moving.  You always checked things out before grabbing them.

One day I went out to do my daily chores..and there…sticking out of a chickens cage was the longest black snake I had seen in a long time.  I knew I was going to find it all fat from eating a chicken…instead what I found was the chicken had stomped the head clean off that snake.  Truly amazing. She was sitting on eggs and not in the mood.  PMS…deadly to snakes.

Ok…now for the sex I promised.  Imagine this Norman Rockwell scene…a little boy is sitting in the middle of a farm yard trying to make a bow out of a piece of elm and string…meanwhile all around him…the animals are getting “busy”.

I used to laugh at my dog while she was dancing with the next door neighbor’s hound.   The roosters were always demanding piggyback rides from the hens..and the squirrels were wrassling (that is southern for wrestling).

I remember my Mom saying how innocent I was…I was thinking..innocent?  Do you know what I have planned with this bow? Pfft..I am not innocent.

I didn’t know it then…but in just a few short years my childhood would come to an abrupt end when I learned what those nasty animals were doing. I still have a hard time looking squirrels in the eye.

All Good things come to an end…the chickens were no different.  My Brother and I were getting older…sports were taking up our summer and fall time.  The chickens were no longer a hobby, but a chore.  My Dad sold or gave away the chicken raising equipment…and planned the Great Chicken Slaughter…this was going to be interesting.

I once watched my Dad kill some of our rabbits.  He would hold them up by their back legs…and then karate chop them right behind the ears.  Death was instant.  Chickens pose a slight problem.

Wringing their necks is the traditional method of killing a chicken…but it does require some practice.  The first few he did, did not die…but they did have severely sprained necks. They escaped into the woods.  Good for them. Snakes probably ate em.

I tried my hand at wringing their necks…I did freak out slightly when I was left holding the head…as the chicken’s body went for a run around me.

My Dad tried to turn it into an efficient process.  He hung the chickens by their feet from the clothes line…the plan was to walk down the line and slice their throats with a knife.  The first chicken’s head came off cleanly…the chicken  spun around…my Dad backed up..blinded by and spitting chicken blood…another failed method.

My brother suggested we use a hatchet and a wooden log.  We pretended we were medieval executioners…sadly the pillowcase we cut holes in only made it hard to brother looked like some crazed midget klansman. My Mother was not amused.

The hatchet method was working nicely…whack…toss…whack toss.  We where having a competition on how far the headless chickens would run.  They can really travel.  Whack toss…whack toss…woosh.  My brother had not cut the head off…and the chicken with a severe neck wound ran into the woods…I’m thinking a snake probably ate her. My Mother was not amused.

The end of an era came with the death of the last chicken…pretty soon the Pigeons would be history and a new era would begin.  My Dad’s plan was a success.

Those chickens taught me responsibility…no I am not 100 percent responsible, but I do the best I can.  Still too much kid in me.

Those chickens taught me that size is not the issue…attitude is.  That rooster didn’t care that the dog could eat him..and he had no idea the neighbors would.  He just lived his life with gusto.

Those chickens taught me that sometimes being completely truthful can be hurtful…so if someone calls you a rooster…when you are a hen…what does it really hurt?

Those Chickens taught me there are things worth fighting for.  Even if you might get hurt….what is life…if there is nothing worth fighting for?

Those Chickens were trying their best to teach me about sex, but I was having none of that nonsense.

Those Chickens taught me that life is funny most of the time.

Who am I kidding…Those chickens didn’t teach me that stuff…My Dad did.

Yep..I have been lucky most of my life

Thanks Dad. I love you.



olredtrk said...

Sure brings back a lot of memories. Thanks. I think I'll order myself a McMurray Hatchery catalogue...

Capt Black Eagle said...

I'm with ya on that...get this..I can plant tomatoes now..for October Harvest...Never lived this deep in the south before.