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Adventures with chickens

By ROSE HOOVER

My adventures with chickens started when I was a young child. One day, we would get a telephone call from the post office, telling us that our chicken mail-order had arrived. I am not sure how those peeps got from the post office to our house, but soon there would be a cardboard box full of yellow fluff balls in the upstairs room to admire. The box was carefully placed over the floor register, so they would get some heat from the downstairs coal stove.

Every Sunday, we had two large stuffed chickens cooked up in a large grey-and-white speckled graniteware roaster. There was enough for lunch and supper, and some for leftovers. As the roaster was too big to fit in the fridge, it would sit out on the Hoosier cupboard pull-out shelf until the roaster’s contents were gone – maybe one day, maybe two. But I don’t ever remember getting sick from eating two-day-old chicken stuffing.

Somehow though, I never connected the chickens running around the yard, or the tree stump chopping block, with those two chickens for Sunday dinner. If I would have, I probably wouldn’t have eaten them.

I hope those chickens in the roaster were roosters. The morning crow of a rooster sounds great, but I bet anyone who grew up with chickens also has had at least one misadventure with a mean rooster, like I did.

Back then, it was nice to have chickens because of the dresses. Every couple of weeks, the Feed Man would pull into our driveway in his old green pickup truck. Mom would pick out some pretty cloth sacks full of chicken feed and, after being emptied and washed, those sacks would then be made into dresses.

I can vividly remember wearing a homemade blue-and-white calico print dress. Just like me, all the girls my age felt quite stylish wearing our feed-sack dresses.

Thank heavens, I didn’t have to clean out the smelly coop. That was my brother’s job. It was my job to feed the chickens. Those pretty feed sacks full of mash and cracked corn were transferred into two big heavy cardboard barrels, with metal lids on them to keep out the mice. Those barrels were as tall as me, and were stored in a small room off the chicken coop.

When it came time to feed the chickens, I would pry off their metal lids, and reach into the barrel to get a scoop of food for the chickens. As the level of feed got lower and lower, I had to stand on a tie block, which was placed next to the barrels, in order to reach the feed. Then, as the level of feed got even lower, I had to jump up on the rim of the barrel, balance myself on my stomach, and then reach down into the depths of the barrel to scoop out the food.

One unfortunate day, while balancing myself on the edge to reach into the very bottom, I tumbled head-first into the barrel of chicken mash. You could say I was “madder than a wet hen” and I don’t remember how I got out of there.

After I married, we had several different flocks of chickens, mostly Rhode Island Reds. We always enjoyed their antics and their eggs, and not one of them ended up in a roaster.

About 20 years ago, when I was gathering eggs, I locked myself in our old coop. But I was able to kick and kick at the inside of the door, till eventually the bent nail that served as the outside door lock came free – and so I was freed, also.

Then last year, when I was giving our chickens water in the new coop that my husband had built, I locked myself in again. It was an extremely hot, sweltering day. No one else was at home. Trying the same method of freeing myself as I had used before, I kicked and kicked at the inside of the door. But it was to no avail. All it did was rile up the wasps, who had built their nests in the rafters.

It wasn’t a good situation.

Luckily, there was a window in the coop with a screen, at face level. So at least I could get some fresh air, because it was unbearably hot in there. I was envious of the chickens, who were outside scratching away in the run.

I pondered my options for several minutes. I could possibly try to climb up and crawl out the window. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen because I sure wasn’t a “spring chicken” any more.

With wasps flying around my head, suddenly my eyes spied a strange mechanism on the inside of the door. Gingerly, I pushed on it and magically the door opened. My husband, in his wisdom, had installed an escape device when he built the new coop – maybe remembering my unfortunate imprisonment in the old coop.

Unfortunately, our last lone Rhode Island Red met its demise just last week, after an encounter with a possum at 4 o’clock in the morning. So, I think my adventures with chickens are now over.

I say “think” because, in a few months, we’ll probably decide to get a couple of hens again. Still, I am hesitant, because I know each of those new chickens will eventually meet their demise, just like all the flocks that came before them. It may be via disease, or a hawk, or a dog, or a possum, or even by tripping over a tree root and breaking its neck. That’s what happened to our giant, clumsy, white rooster named Ralph.

Raising chickens is a lot like life. You never know what may happen, it’s always an adventure, and it always ends. So in the time we have left, maybe we should take these words of chicken-wisdom to heart. Don’t “ruffle anyone’s feathers” and try not to be a “bad egg.” Because we know that, eventually, “the chickens will always come home to roost.”

——

Rose Hoover is a freelance writer for The Express. She can be reached at rosehovr@yahoo.com

or 814-387-4016.

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