Some of my best memories from growing up on a farm had to do with backyard chickens – or rather barnyard chickens. I remember when the chicks would arrive at the post office, and my father and I would head into town (population around 1,000) to pick up a small cardboard box alive with the shrill chirps from a few dozen little fluff balls that I would come to adore. My father even recalls a time that I had crawled into the brooder and fell asleep with the chicks – you’ll never see that on the Grit brooder cam. I don't remember such a silly story, but a young child's memory is often questionable.
We raised chickens for both meat and egg purposes, and as a child I sold eggs to the neighbors, making a few bucks here and there. I'm not ashamed to admit it now, they also made decent playmates for a couple of country kids like me and my brother. That is until they don't want to play anymore. The story I'm going to recount is by far my most vivid memory dealing with chickens.
So there I was wandering about the barnyard one lazy summer afternoon, as per my usual activities at the green age of 11. I was continually swatting at a haze of whining gnats hanging about my head, but with little effect on their congregation. I remember listening to the orchestra of pond critters that lived just down the hill from the house tuning themselves for their nightly symphony: frogs, bob whites, and whippoorwills – always my favorite. I was making my rounds, checking in on my poultry posse, as I thought of my barnyard friends.
You might say I was a bored child, what with all my "animal friends." And at that age, I would have agreed with you. But now I can see how my imagination has benefited from keeping such friends as farm animals.
Moving on with the story, there I was, out in the barnyard, discussing at length great matters with these chickens. Now, I had noticed a few of these guys had been getting a little aggressive. Or rather, the roosters were getting aggressive. My father suggested carrying around a stick should I feel the need to employ harsher means of defense.
The details are a bit fuzzy from this point on, but the way Dad tells it, my stick of choice was roughly the diameter of a twig. I couldn't tell you if that was true or not, because upon turning to face the flock, I locked eyes with this heathen rooster at a dead sprint in my direction. It was clear that this innocent childhood alliance had been broken, and all bets were off. One swift swing of my twig-stick and … nothing. He was still running.
I made a break for it thinking only of his sharp beak and even sharper talons. At that age, sports had yet to improve my agility, and so false footedly, I stumbled over an invisible obstruction and down I went. I stayed on the ground for a few moments, writhing and yelling in fear.
Upon realizing the rooster was no longer attacking, I stood up. I looked at my arm and noticed a contortion that hadn't been there before – then my eye caught the blood. I ran to the house yelling for my mother. She opened the door, took one look and said, "Don't move," as she scurried back in to prepare a makeshift splint for the ride to the hospital.
The rest of the evening involved several nurses, one doctor, and a lot of waiting. It was well into the night when they began surgery, as both bones in my forearm had been broken – my radius would require a metal plate and several screws. (I've only ever set off one metal detector while touring a prison in college.) Thusly, I tell people that farming is quite literally in my blood.
Fast forward 13 years, and I do not hate chickens. Quite the opposite, actually; I'm just much better at defending myself should one of them get a wild feather up their vent.
My biggest fear is that people will doubt that they have it in them; that a natural instinct won't kick in and they won't just know what to do in a tough situation; and that they’ll let this fear keep them from trying the homesteading life. The fact of the matter is, you won't know at first. There are so many things I still don't know, but I'm always willing to ask questions. I still ask my father over a Google search any day. No one wants to make a mistake, but it's simply how we learn. So, I wouldn’t tell anyone to not be afraid, but to try despite the fear – and keep a big stick on hand.
Photo: Fotolia.com/Goran Bogicevic