Chicken Chores on the Farm Provided Entertainment

At chore time, the poultry population often called the shots.

| September/October 2017

  • Egg-gathering chores were a dangerous task when hens were broody.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth Illustration
  • A quasi Easter egg hunt.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth Illustration

For as long as I can remember, chickens have been a renewable natural resource, similar to such things as sunshine or television signals.

When I was a kid growing up on our humble South Dakota dairy farm, our parents would purchase a hundred baby chicks each April. One spring something must have gone wrong with our brooder, because an upstairs bedroom in our farmhouse suddenly became a baby chick nursery.

My siblings and I didn’t mind this development. On the contrary, we were delighted to have unlimited opportunities to cuddle the cute little peepers. I don’t recall how long the chicks stayed in the bedroom, but I’m pretty sure Mom insisted they be gone before they began to crow.

Our baby chicks normally lived in our chicken coop. They would huddle under our brooder, a hexagonal sheet metal contraption that was about 8 feet across and had a propane-fired heater at its heart. I often worried about what would happen if the rusty wires from which the brooder was suspended broke. I assumed we would have no choice but to dine for the next several days on miniature roast chicken.

The chicks grew rapidly and were soon venturing out from the shelter of the brooder. When the weather warmed, Dad would open the door to the coop and give the chickens the run of the farmstead. We were trendsetters in that we had free-range chickens long before this practice became chic.

Summer arrived, and the pullets began to lay. Since the chickens were able to roam freely, finding their eggs was a challenge. It fell to my sister Di and me to explore the hidden recesses and forgotten corners of our sprawling old barn. It was like having an Easter egg hunt every day.

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