Even when Linda and I have attempted to portray ourselves as actual farmers, more times than not, we have found ourselves in a cross between “Green Acres” and a gothic horror story…or gothic comedy. Most of these forays involved our attempt at “domesticating our animals” which at various times have included goats, rabbits, chickens or all three. I have learned lessons from all but will focus on what I learned from raising chickens…other lessons will be shared later.
I learned very quickly not to say “I need…” or “I might get…” or “We ought to…” in front of my father-in-law. I wish I had mastered this lesson before saying, “I might get a few chickens since we have a coop.” Never allowing grass to grow under his feet, my father-in-law Ralph Porter immediately went on a quest to get Don and Linda some “yard fowl.” I had to stop him when our flock topped thirty “mixed bag” laying hens and three roosters to go with them. Ralph had gone anywhere there might have been someone who was trying to get rid of chickens, tossed them into the back of his covered pickup, and transported them to “Hemlock Hills.” Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks and American Bantams Game Hens began to lay more eggs than we could even give away…until the wildlife came by to sample our “bill of fare.” We found out very quickly that our Reds and Rocks were fair game for foxes, raccoons and possums. Never quite getting the coop secure enough, we reduced our “flock” by about two-thirds. For some reason out of the coop the roosters and game hens seemed to be well-suited to escape the critters. So, “free range” roosting became a safer option… but that led to more lessons to be learned.
Of all the animals on “God’s Green Earth,” chickens must have been hiding when the Good Lord was passing out brains. My God, being a humorous God, decided to do them no favors by creating a bird that can’t really fly. Our surviving game hens who were brighter and more mobile than most breeds took offense to our robbing their nest for eggs and decided to take advantage of our free range farming techniques. They just disappeared. After a while we believed they had been kidnapped by Br’er Fox who had been shopping for dinner. Later in the spring, while sitting in my upstairs study, I was startled to hear the “peep, peep, peep” sounds of baby chicks emanating from outside the open second-story window. The game hens had laid their eggs in the squirrel nests high in our hemlock trees and were hatching them out. Temporarily struck stupid in amazement, Linda and I never considered how they would make their way to the ground. Their mothers hadn’t considered it either. Chickens fly only slightly better than rocks. Chicks? They don’t fly at all but simply make a sound reminiscent of a nut being cracked when they hit the ground. Returning from a local coach’s clinic I was greeted with the vision of sheets strung from tree to tree. Linda Gail had decided that sheets strung under the trees was a better option than running around trying to catch the helpless little things with a butterfly net which we didn’t have. My wife is one of the brighter animals God created and was able to save most of the babies.
As if cascading biddies were not enough, one of my two remaining Rhode Island Red roosters seemed intent on committing suicide. He was the Alpha rooster if there was such a thing. He was a beautiful bird with a mostly black body but with the characteristic red, orange and yellow feathers on his neck and back. He was also rather…confused.
One morning after an attack by the local predators I couldn’t find him. I had heard him but had not been able to locate him when I went on a search. As I walked away from his coop I heard him again, “Cock-a-doodle-doooooooo!” His crowing was coming from far above me. When I looked up into the tallest poplar tree in my yard, I spotted him. Had he been any higher in the tree he would have been on a cloud! Imitating a weathervane, he was swaying from side to side in the light morning breeze. He had hopped to the very top of the poplar tree, limb to limb, until he had run out of limbs. “So how are you coming down?” I muttered to myself just as he decided to show me. In a method resembling an old “football” death dive, “Boomer” as he would later be named, jumped into the air, beating his wings frantically. Scientifically, his efforts at “horizontal velocity” had little effect on his downward or “vertical velocity.” In non-scientific terms, HE FELL LIKE A STONE! Just before landing…crashing…totally wiping out, Boomer tried to get his landing gear down but to no avail. It would be his chest and beak that would stop his fall…all five times that he bounced. I knew he was dead and had visions of WKRP’s Les Nessman exclaiming “Oh, the humanity!” But Boomer fooled me. Picking himself up and ruffling his feathers, he looked at me as if to ask, “Hey, how did I stick that landing? A ten right?” More like “any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” Another lesson learned – Roosters are a lot more resilient than turkeys!
Don Miller has self-published three books which may be downloaded or purchased in paperback on Amazon.
A Southern boy comes of age during the Sixties in PATHWAYS http://goo.gl/ZFIu4V
Forty years of coaching and teaching in “WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING….” http://goo.gl/UE2LPW
An irreverent look at FLOPPY PARTS http://goo.gl/Saivuu