|My flock when I still had a nasty rooster on the left.|
Chickens are one of the most common and widespread domestic animals in the world. There are more than 100 breeds in the world and 30 to 60 breeds common in the United States. Some breeds are raised for eggs and others for meat.
In the 1800s into the early 1900s chickens were raised by most households. They not only supplied eggs and the occasional Sunday dinner, but were easy to keep because chickens can fend for themselves foraging with only a little extra grain added.
The only chickens we had growing up were the Easter peeps we got which almost always turned into roosters. I can remember my dad eventually chopping off their heads and how fascinated we were watching the chickens flopping around for a long time without heads. However gruesome that was, I don’t remember it keeping us from enjoying a good chicken dinner from these Easter peeps. Maybe it was because when they got older, the roosters often attacked us. Roosters are nasty critters.
|Grandma Jones on a Canada Vacation|
My mother’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa Jones, kept chickens. I remember helping Grandma gather eggs and doing what her grandkids called “The Teaberry Shuffle” from some TV ad as she made her way to the chicken yard flicking chicken droppings off the sidewalk with a little sideways kick as she went along. She complained often about Grandpa not fixing the fence from which they escaped.
My father grew up in a coal mining town in PA where his mother kept a sizable garden and chickens. When Grandpa quit his job as foreman of the mine stables because the superintendent wanted to cut back on feed for the mine ponies and increase their hours, they moved to Ohio where Grandpa got a job in a factory. This was during the Depression when jobs were hard to find, but my grandfather had a winning personality. To help feed his large family, he raised a large flock of chickens and each Saturday he’d butcher and clean them then take them into town to sell. He had many repeat customers because he was an honest man, who didn’t leave the gizzards and stuff inside to make them weigh more like many chicken venders did.
When I got over wanting a ranch with hundreds of horses, I decided when I grew up I wanted to live on a farm. That sort of happened when my husband and I bought four acres of land and I got the horse I always wanted. My husband and young teenage sons built a large barn with five stalls and turned one into a chicken stall with a run off the back. I’d order small chicks of different breeds. One breed that fascinated me was Polish chickens with their feathered topknots.
|A polish hen like one of mine I once had.|
Once in a poetry class I was taking with Professor Elizabeth Hoobler. Half way through the semester, she wanted each of us to bring in our favorite poem with enough copies for each student. That was a hard assignment. How can one pick a favorite poem out of so many I’ve read and loved. However, Robert Frost being one of my favorite poets, I browsed through a large book of his poetry and was delighted to find “A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury” about a hen that won that award. Robert Frost had been a chicken farmer at one time. That poem gave me an idea.
So I caught one of my Polish hens, put her in a cloth book bag and covered her with a towel. For those of you who don’t know much about birds, if they’re in the dark they go still. It also makes them very vulnerable to predators. Off to class I went and took a seat in an outside row and put my book bag with the hen down beside me. She moved a little now and then, but was quiet.
Then it was my turn. I went to the front of the room and handed my copies to those in the front rows to pass back, and took my black and white hen from the bag and set her down on the floor and started to read the poem. However, no one could hear me because not only was she clucking and depositing her little markings on the floor, but the class was totally roaring with laughter, even Professor Hoobler.
What turned into a real serendipity moment was that shortly after everyone had finished reading their favorite poem, another professor, who is an awesome poet, came to share some of her poetry with us. The first or second poem she read was about a pet rooster she loved that had been given to her uncle and kept in his basement until he chopped off its head. Who would have believed she’d share a chicken poem the same day I shared my chicken poem.
Yes, I still keep a small flock of what are currently six rather old hens. They’re messy critters, but I’ve never butchered a hen nor will I. They either die of old age or some critter manages to get in and kill one. Even though I don’t eat a lot of eggs and give almost all my eggs away to family or friends, the eggs taste much better than those bought in a store. Is it worth the expense of feed and the work involved feeding them and cleaning their coop? Probably not, but I always wanted to be a farmer and even just six hens and two ponies pleases me.
For those of you who read my last week’s blog about hoarding books, the title of this blog is the title of a book that was on my parents’ book shelves for years and years. The Egg and I was written by Betty MacDonald published in 1945 and based on MacDonald’s experiences as a newlywed trying to operate a chicken farm with her husband. It was on the best seller list and eventually made into a movie with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in the lead and Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma and Pa Kettle. I vaguely remember reading it, but couldn’t find it on my shelves. I may have given it away some time ago, or maybe it’s in a box of books in my garage.
Do you have any chicken stories? A favorite chicken recipe, maybe?