Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Chicken Ranch

Now some people have the idea that chicken comes in little Styrofoam packages or plastic bags with only certain parts of the chicken ready to be cooked.  And the children believe that eggs come out of grey paper cartons by 6, 12, or 18 counts.  Some people may even be so far gone that they might believe that chicken and eggs are called McNuggets and McEggs.  But it just isn’t so.  Of course, I read lately on the Web that some of those grilled ‘chicken’ pieces served on salads never really saw a chicken.  But I don’t want to think about their source.  [Not quite as many stray dogs and cats running around these days…]


Years ago on the farm, my grandparents had some sweet old hens.  I call them sweet because each one had a name and Grandmother seemed to coax eggs out of those hens much longer than they normally would have remained in the egg laying mode.  The funny thing about it was that Grandmother wouldn’t kill and cook any of those old girls.  They died a natural death of old age while she kept putting out feed for them.  Sitting here shaking my head.  Of course, they would have been too tough to eat if she had tried to cook one, so it’s just as well she didn’t try.


Shortly after Fang and I married, I decided to raise my own chickens in the backyard.  When the roosters got big enough to make a meal, my sister-in-law and her daughter Karen came up and helped me dress fryers.  Karen watched me kill the chickens with an axe and sidled up to her mom and said, “Mom, Aunt Nancy is mean!”  Yes, I really did feel mean about killing those critters, but I don’t know how to wring their necks or otherwise help them meet their demise before they are added to the deep freeze.  Anyway, the fryers were good and the hens began to lay eggs in self defense.  Fang got a little perturbed with chicken stuff all over the place, so I had to kill the rest of the chickens eventually.  But that was not ALL of the chickens.  Our daughter had a science teacher who was teaching a unit on eggs.  The children got to watch the eggs being incubated and turned until almost all of them hatched out.  Then the teacher sent home baby chicks.  Oh boy!  One child, one chick might work; but three children and one chick just won’t work.  So off to the feed store we went and came home with two more chicks.  We ended up with two roosters and a lady.  Thankfully, father-in-law still had a farm and his own chickens, so when the roosters started crowing and chasing the kids around the yard, we bundled them up and took them to the farm.  The biggest rooster was a Rhode Island red and he didn’t last long.  I just didn’t ask because he was the one who chased the kids around and had the others following him.


Our children have seen chickens growing out on the farm, but they have never seen the chicken ranch like my Kennedy grandfather had.  His houses each held ten thousand chicks.  [Mother corrected my numbers, but I still think it was more than a thousand.]  Let me tell you; that is entirely too many chickens!  The summer I stayed on the farm and worked in the chicken houses with my Grandmother Kennedy, I learned all I ever didn’t want to know about chickens.  But I have to laugh now at some of the things that they did.  Granddad Kennedy complained about the little idiots removing the shiny nuts off the water troughs.  Each chick would go by and peck at the shiny nut and go on.  Repeat that a few hundred times and the nut was soon gone—swallowed by a feathered idiot.  And those chickens would eat anything—ANYTHING!  Granddad was squatting down trying to cut a piece of string with his teeth when he accidentally pulled one of the false teeth off his upper plate.  It hit the ground and was gone in a flash of a yellow beak.  He sat there cussing and ranting until Grandmother came over and asked, “Billy, what in the world is wrong?”  Granddad, being a typical Kennedy, put the string on the OTHER side of his mouth and showed her what he had done—and DID IT AGAIN!


When I think back on the chickens eating Granddad’s teeth, I don’t feel quite as bad about Harley B eating our carpenter pencils.


Granddad Kennedy felt that the big chicken companies had no intention of helping the growers make a living.  And that was nearly 50 years ago.  My brother and his family are back in Arkansas raising chickens now.  And things are worse now than they were when our granddad finally threw in the manure spreader.  Even if raising chickens were not terribly labor intensive, the cost of maintaining the houses and equipment—along with all the regulations for disposal of wastes—has become outrageous.  The government can print all the money it can find paper to print it on, but the chicken farmer couldn’t use it to paper the floor under his chickens.  Unless something changes soon, each family may have to start penning up some chickens in the back yard again.  At least the kids could see the real thing for a change.

1 comment:

Carla said...

I laughed until I cried at your story about Granddad Kennedy and his teeth. No disrespect -- it sounded like something *I* would do!