Raising Chickens Can Be an Adventure
Trials of a chicken foreman raising chickens become more than a job.
Cleaning out the nests in the coop is one rough aspect of keeping chickens.
Fried chicken is my favorite meal in the whole world. If the day ever comes that I find myself awaiting the hangman’s noose, I plan to request my wife’s fried chicken for my final meal. I figure that her fried chicken, mashed potatoes and white flour gravy is probably as close to Heaven as I’ll ever get.
I do not, on the other hand, care for chickens on the hoof. With all due respect to poultry aficionados, I believe chickens are nasty, smelly creatures with the reasoning power of a turnip and the survival instincts of a lemming. I can tell you why the chicken crossed the road. Because a car was coming.
I know all about the disgusting habits of chickens because we raised Leghorns on the farm where I grew up. Each spring, my folks would order three or four dozen chicks from a mail-order hatchery, pick them up in town, and then install them in an electric brooder in an old shack until they were big enough to fend for themselves in the farmyard.
As the family chicken foreman, it was my job to make sure the chicks had plenty of starter feed and fresh water. It was also my responsibility, of course, to change the newspapers lining the floor of the brooder when the pungent aroma of chicken litter became overwhelming. Which was pretty much every time I entered the building.
Like teenagers with gangly limbs and acne, fuzzy yellow chicks cease being cute the minute they start growing feathers and begin pecking at one another to establish a flock hierarchy. As soon as their feathers formed, it was time to move the flock to the chicken house.
The chicken house was a low-ceiling structure with a straw-covered floor and one wall consisting of individual nesting boxes. Outside was a shallow trough containing cracked corn and barley, and a waterer that I kept filled with buckets of water carried from the hydrant.
Long before the word had been coined, these were free-range chickens, unrestrained by fence or pen. Our chickens had the run of the farmyard, the feedlot and the cow pasture behind the house. This gave them full access to grasshoppers, spilled grain and anything they found of interest in the cow pen.
On our farm, the chicken foreman was also in charge of collecting eggs. Although the majority of the chicks we raised were destined to become fryers, a few lucky hens were assigned the permanent job of supplying our family with eggs. But being a layer was not a job without risk. Any hen that failed to produce an egg for several days was likely to find herself on the wrong end of the chopping block. I, chicken foreman, held the power of life or death over the nonperformers.