Tales from the old-timerIssue Date: June 6, 2014
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
daughter of the Old-Timer
Many years ago most families kept a few chickens for eggs and meat. The huge commercial egg factories we have now didnt exist, and people didnt go to the store frequently, so having some laying hens was a sensible idea. You see this concept hotly debated in big cities now, especially more liberal ones, as some people like to have a couple urban chickens to clean their flower gardens of bugs, provide truly fresh eggs, and some entertainment to the city dwellers. Theres been controversial regulatory efforts concerning having livestock in the city at all, chicken density, required chicken housing, and noise control, but many people keep their city chickens regardless of the rules, and most neighbors probably dont complain. Chickens make noise, sure, but not like urban traffic, loud music and high density housing.
When I was growing up we went through a decade or so of having small flocks of chickens. We had an existing coop on the farmstead we occupied, so we had 20 or so chickens and it was great fun to go collect the eggs every day. Our hens werent always confined and they were really sneaky about hiding their eggs in the asparagus patch, or other places. They are domesticated animals, but their wild ancestors come through at times, and this predator-avoidance behavior led to real life Easter Egg hunts. Because our flock was small, each chicken got a name, and this led to some somber chicken dinners as the kids would contemplate eating George or Henry.
The most interesting chicken we had was a big, self-assured Barred Rock hen named Barbara. She was quite bright for a bird, and would trail us around the yard knowing the stalking might lead to some food. One day when we were having a cookout, she hopped into a frying pan on top the grating over the fire and ate a couple raw hamburgers up in a twinkling, then hopped out, apparently none the worse for the heat.
We also had interesting battles with the local predator population. After all, we are not at all the only animal that enjoys eating chicken, and there were epic battles with hawks, skunks and other chicken-loving visitors.
I currently live next to a man who has free range chickens. I love the fact that these chickens enjoy a truly luxurious life compared to the pitiful battery hens, confined in their tiny cages. But the lure of loose chickens draws predators, lots of them, and a regrettable slaughter of raptors and carnivores in defense of the chickens, who are, after all, only doing what nature intended them to do. My sympathy lies with them, so when I find yet another large patch of feathers in my field, I say nothing. I figure it would be cheaper for him to get some fencing than constantly replace the chickens, and hope sooner or later he will do so.
One very severe winter night, my parents were concerned the chickens would freeze, so my Dad put a small bullet stove that burned oil into their coop. Somehow it malfunctioned during the night, causing a thick black cloud of smoke to fill the coop. The chickens we a sad-sounding flock in the morning, covered with soot and coughing. They were all brought into the basement of the house to recover, which they did. Early farmers did share their dwelling with livestock at times, and we kids thought having basement chickens was a lot of fun, until the chickens were relocated back outside and the basement, a filthy mess, had to be cleaned and bleached.
Ive often thought with nostalgia about the entertaining antics of the chickens, and it has crossed my mind to get a few hens myself. But I know Id never bring myself to be able to butcher any of them, and decide to content myself with a few memories. For now.
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