Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Time Left For You

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 move..it 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 see..my 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.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Life With Chickens Part Three

If you missed part one it is HERE. If you missed part two it is HERE.

In part two, I revealed how the chickens were part of my Dad’s plan for his boys.  Those chickens transported us into a hidden, cult like subculture.  Chicken cults are dangerous.  If there is a Mecca for the Chicken Cult…the State Fair is it.


The Chicken Cult is a club…yes they have Chicken Clubs….not the sandwich. My Dad took me to one of the meetings once, and that is where I met the Grand Pooba of chickens…the wizard of the cluck…the all knowing Chicken Whisperer…his name was Doug.

Doug was old, but then again so was my Dad.  However, Doug was bald old…and fat.  Doug was a tobacco chewer, you could tell by the permanent tobacco stain on his chin. Doug spoke in that typical slow quiet Southern style.  He was not a loud or pushy sort of person, but when he spoke about the chicken...people listened. My Dad had known Doug before we had chickens.  Of course where I lived everyone knew everyone.

My Dad took us over to see Doug.  It is important that I mention a few more things about Doug…he lived at home with his mom and dad….in their basement. Doug sold chicken supplies for a living; he was the go to man for chicken supplies.  Doug also raised exotic chickens…such as the Game Hen.

On our visit Doug showed my Dad how he had put wire on the bottom of the cages and a pull out drawer under each cage.  This allowed the chicken poop to collect on the drawer.  Then Doug put worms in the chicken poop…this generated a whole new income source. Doug was pretty smart for a guy who lived in his mom’s basement.

Doug also warned us to be quiet around the Game Hens…he said that if you make a loud noise that scares them…they could have a heart attack and die.  This was News!!  My brother was playing with a bee and not paying attention…I had to warn him about loud noises…so…you guessed…I yelled “HEY..KEEP QUIET”.

The vision of that poor chicken still twitching its last twitch, and the tear in Doug’s eye haunted me for hours. My Dad was not happy, and I was never allowed to go to Doug’s house again.  Just as well…he had wimpy chickens.

Ever notice how some people look like their dog?  That holds true for some chicken owners.  One guy I remember…just not his name…owned what I consider the most deadly chicken on the planet.  The Black Sumatra.

The Black Sumatra is pretty, it is large, and it is mean. It stands nearly three feet high, has a large meaty body, and long strong legs armed with sharp spurs nearly four inches long. The Black Sumatra is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the Chicken Kingdom.  I saw first hand the damage the Black Sumatra Rooster can do to a human.  The guy that owned him reached in the cage so he could pack him up…in a quick and loud snap the Rooster popped his spurs in the guy’s arm…it left a three inch gash.

Chicken Spur
The guy that owned the Black Sumatra was a short white guy…he didn’t look anything like his chicken, but he did have some major issues with anger. He once threatened to beat up Doug over some chicken deal gone wrong.

As I said earlier the State Fair was the Mecca for the Chicken Cult.  It was where everyone brought in their best Chicken...cleaned and dried.  My Dad allowed my brother and me to pick the chicken we wanted to enter as our very own. We had to fill out a form that said what type of chicken it was…and what sex it was.  At the Fair we would be given a number for our chicken and place it in a cage.  Then we would wait for the Judges.

The judges would not speak to us…they were armed with a clipboard and a chicken poker.  They would poke each chicken and scribble notes on their clipboard.  One year I had entered a Rhode Island Red Hen.  The judges spent a lot of time looking at her.  In fact, they returned to look at her several times.

There is no money involved in winning at the State Fair…you get a ribbon..or if you are lucky a trophy.  However, some of these guys were commercial chicken breeders…a blue ribbon or trophy bird could increase the price at market.  For me, at first it was a big deal…but it quickly just became another thing. That Rhode Island Red Hen was about to cause me a slight quandary.

There was little fanfare with the awards…the judges would just hang the ribbons on the cage or put the trophy on top.  The judge walked up to that Rhode Island Red Hen and placed a big trophy on top of her cage.  I was proud of her.  For the rest of the day I was one of the Kings of the Chicken Cult…until I actually read the words on the trophy.  My Hen…a girl…had just won…Best Rooster in Show!

This was News!!

I ran up to my Dad and told him what had just happened.  My Dad went over and read the trophy.  This was a problem.  In a normal world we would have just pointed out that someone had made a mistake…the rooster was not a rooster.  However these judges were not normal people…they had egos bigger than Obama. You are not supposed to question their calls, and if you embarrassed them they would hold it against you. For the next two days I had to check her cage and remove the egg she would lay.

The State Fair was the highlight of each year with the Chickens…and as much fun as that was the true learning came from the Chickens themselves.  In the fourth and final part you will be exposed to sex, violence, and love…and some really funny stuff...I will talk about THE CHICKENS.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Life With Chickens Part Two

If you missed part one you can read it HERE

As I said in Part One my Dad included my brother and I in all of his hobbies. The Pidgeons, bees, rabbits, and dogs all were his way of exposing us to what men…grown southern men…needed to know.  Basic skills if you will.  These skills taught me the things I needed to know..no that is not the right word…the things I needed to be an instinctive part of me. These things were all part of my Dad’s hidden plan…and the chickens were part of that plan.


My Dad had taken the day off from work. It was a Friday in early fall.  When I got home from school I did the normal thing of dropping my books on the couch, and then heading out the back door to play with my dog. What I saw made me stop cold!

He was standing next to an old wash tub…the kind that had legs so you could use it standing.  At first, I couldn’t tell exactly what he was doing…until..he brought his hands out of the water.  My Dad…the guy I considered the most mentally stable person on this planet…was washing chickens.  I had watched him kill chickens.  I had watched him pluck chickens.  I had never dreamed I would see him wash chickens.

After he washed each chicken he dried it with a towel and placed it in a large box.  I looked in the box and there were six clean, but wet looking chickens in it.  I asked my Dad, “What cha doin’”?

“Washing chickens”, he said.

“Why”, I said

“We are entering them in the fair”, he said with a smile.

I ran to the house like a dog at suppertime. This was news!

I told my brother all about the chicken washing, and the fair…we both ran back outside..My brother asked, “Can we go with you”? 

“You boys will be going to help me”. He said.

Do you remember getting so excited about something you suddenly needed to pee?  That is how I felt.  My experience with the fair had been a school field trip the year before.  It was not that much fun since it consisted of a long bus ride, and the teachers spending so much time keeping us altogether we really didn’t see that much.  This time we would be going with my Dad, and we would be part of the State Fair. There was a lot to do to get ready, and my Dad was trying to figure out how to get six chickens dry. 

After dinner my brother and I did our homework…this way we would be free for the whole weekend.  My Dad went outside to work on the wet chicken problem.  After a bit I went to the kichen to look for something to eat, and I heard our station wagon running. I asked my Mom where Daddy was going…she said she didn’t think he was going anywhere. At that moment the station wagon quit running, and my Dad walked inside.  “We have a problem”, he said.

When my Dad was in the military he had been a mechanic, and that station wagon was his pride and joy.  It was also a lemon.  Any trip that we would take outside of our county required his tinkering to make sure we could get there and back.  When he said there was a problem, this is what I thought.  That was not the problem.

My Dad said, “The chickens are dead”.

I listened as he explained what had killed the clean wet chickens.  It sounded so odd that I had to see this for myself.  What I saw was quite unusual. Running from the exhaust pipe of the station wagon was a vacuum hose…it connected to a large cardboard box that had holes poked in it.  Inside the box were six, clean, dry, and very dead chickens.  I wondered how this would affect our trip to the fair.

Since my Mother had refused to cook any chicken that had died by carbon monoxide poisoning I had the job of digging a pit and disposing of the very clean, very dead chickens. Luckily my Dad would not be denied the opportunity to compete at the fair with his boys.

Over the next several years we racked up hundreds of red, blue, and white ribbons, as well as several trophies.  My Dad had hidden a little gem of wisdom with every trip…an object lesson on what it means to be a man, a good Southern man. That was his hidden plan all along. 

Stay Tuned for Part Three.... THE FAIR

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Life With Chickens Part One

I have been lucky in my life. I grew up in a time of great turmoil in our nation, but in my little corner of North Carolina, things were relatively quiet. Relative is the key word. The world of a child creates its own brand of turmoil.

Many of these tumultuous experiences revolved around the various animals my Dad had brought home.  These included bees, rabbits, tropical fish, pigeons, and chickens.  Ah, the chickens, they hold a special place in my heart.  It is not exactly a good place.  

My Dad was endowed with a very active mind.  By day he worked at Western Electric making communications equipment for the U.S. Navy and other people. During the week, after work, he would work on the various hobbies he included my brother and I in.  The chickens were the latest in his ideas.  Join me in this journey through the world of chickens.


It was early on a Saturday morning when I heard the sound of a saw. My Dad was building something!  Powertools to a little boy are like dresses to little girls.  I was out the door in a flash, I just had to see what he was building.

When I got to my Dad he was measuring…I had learned long ago to not bother him while he was measuring…so I just sat on a an old brick and watched him. He would ask me to hold this or that while he worked.  

I finally asked him, “what are you makin’”. 

He said, “Chicken Coup”.

“Oh”, I said.

After watching for a bit longer I asked, “Why”?

Without stopping he said, “to hold chickens.”

“Ah”, I said

I thought about this for awhile, then asked “We gettin’ chickens”?

“Yes”, he said.

I ran like Paul Revere with words of impending Brit arrival to tell my brother.  This was news!

Nothing this exciting had happened since the Japanese kid had moved in up the road.  We rode our bikes up there to just look at him.  I’m sure someone would call us racists…but we had never seen a Japanese kid in person. He was ok, and he spoke English.  His grandmother was a bit strict so she didn’t let him out much.  We often wondered why a little old white lady had a Japanese grandson..but we didn’t dwell on it.  It didn’t matter now we were getting chickens!

The chickens were white…with red combs…that’s the part on their heads. My Dad said there were 24 hens, and 2 roosters.  Here is a chicken fact for you…young hens are called pullets, young roosters are called cockerels.  I will not go into the many races of chickens..that gets way complicated. 

My brother asked, “What are we going to do with them”?

My Dad said, “Eat their eggs”.

I asked, “Can we play with them”.

My Dad said, “No”.

We watched the chickens for awhile, then rode up to see the Japanese kid.  He was more fun.  Later, we brought the Japanese kid by to see the chickens…he was more interested in seeing our fort in the woods.  Just as well…chickens really are not that entertaining…or so I thought.