When some acreage was purchased and the subjects of our discussion began to traverse the path toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle they weren’t entirely clueless, as one of the party had some memory of growing cotton on a grandfather’s 67 acres of rocky hillside and an uncle’s somewhat smaller cattle farm, yet there have been times when both were beside themselves observing the mindless antics of the critters who are in charge.
One can only laugh when thumbing through a magazine or book written by someone who has amassed a whopping three hens in a suburban back yard and feels capable of advising all of humanity on how to “farm”. That scenario is about as ridiculous as small-holders like the subjects of our narrative are to some corporate farm like Tyson. A book about gardening with chickens comes to mind. That author and her requisite three hens enjoy a bucolic life in which she plants flowers and shrubs and is adored for her beautification projects by her tiny flock.
This author’s kind and generous husband gave her that book at Christmas, both envisioning their homestead looking like something from the glossy pages of House Beautiful in no time, only to realize that poultry of any kind looks at such plantings and has one thought, and one thought only, in their pea-sized brain – eating it. As they wandered about seeing nothing but stems, scratched up turf, and contented free-range poultry, they knew editors weren’t coming to photograph their place and the book was tossed in a pile where it will resurface some day when they set aside a day to spruce up a bit.
There is a host of published information on how to hatch your way to riches, the problem being that some of the information is more apt to produce rags than riches. First one must collect the eggs and pray the male half of the flock has not only enjoyed his time with the ladies but has successfully fertilized her eggs. One tries to amass enough eggs to fill the incubator all the while counting the days before putting them in to insure they remain viable. The old adage, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, was surely penned by a poultry farmer because no matter what you do some of the eggs are never going to hatch. Others will pip only to breathe their last before fully breaking out of the shell or just not be strong enough to thrive.
For those hatched by a setting hen, there is the threat of a sudden rain storm that can drown young chicks, or a myriad of dangers that can befall chicks too small to remain confined in the wire pen with mama hen. Careful now should you decide to take the chicks, for their own good, of course, because mama has been known to put up quite a fight to keep her babies. A five pound hen becomes a veritable flying force when she’s latched on to a coat-tail and begins tugging away to prevent the human from reaching her babies.
Eventually, the long awaited day arrives, albeit sometimes two to three days later than these three-hen-keeping, would-be writers tell you to wait, and chirping is heard coming from inside the incubator. Looking in, tiny beaks are seen chipping away at their earthly confinement, ready to clumsily crawl around over the as yet un-hatched eggs with dizzying effects on their slower siblings.
After giving stragglers another couple of days, our farmer counts his chicks, goslings, poults, or ducklings and imagines crispy-skinned, golden brown, roasted duck or steaming parsley-laden chicken and dumplings, not to mention the eggs. Oh, the eggs – there’s fried, scrambled, poached, deviled, and pickled. The kitchen island sags under the heavy burden of baked goods our farmerette has pulled from the oven, all delicately risen with the inclusion of a generous supply of those farm-fresh, free-range eggs.
Neither half of our dynamic duo has as yet realized that hatching is merely the beginning of raising poultry. No one expects perfectly healthy chicks to wade around and lollygag in the watering dish, get chilled, and die in an amazingly short time or to be trampled by other chicks too stupid not to huddle en masse. Soon the phrase about not counting one’s chickens becomes a grim foreboding note in their book of poultry care.
All goes well, though, for the most part, and our happy couple begins to fully embrace farm life with its endless supply of fresh air, cool breezes, romantic dimly-lit outdoor meals, and sessions quietly talking about first one thing and another, all cuddled up, as the gentle breeze slowly rocks the hammock strung between two wild olive trees. Just when they think they’d burst if their bubble got any bigger, a masked bandit stealthily sneaks in one night to wreak havoc on their precious sleeping birds. Walt Disney did farmers a disservice when he portrayed raccoons as cute and adorable. He left out the part about how they can rip out a full-grown duck’s throat for the pure pleasure of it and leave it laying to breath its last writhing in agony or how it will kill a hen and drag it up a tree to lodge it between the trunk and a limb just to watch from afar to see how long it will take the humans to look up in the tree for the missing, formerly healthy, chicken.
Farmer and farmerette decide they’ll have no more of these shenanigans and put out big bucks for a protector for their flock, one that comes with a pedigree and is the cutest ball of fur ever to set foot on the little homestead, only to watch said ball of fur learn to suck eggs and exhaust the birds by trying to herd them into an imaginary coral for hours on end. When more birds are dying from these antics than were killed by the raccoons, our loving couple decide the dog must be confined so that it can still alert them to the presence of coons, foxes, coyotes and such, but remain far enough away from the beloved flock that she cannot do them harm.
The fancy schmancy electronic collar was about as useless as ice on the frozen tundra so the farmer dons his cap and off they go to the mercantile to buy reels of cable, hooks, clamps, screws, lag bolts, rope, pulleys, a collar, chain and about anything else they can spend good money on, and head back home to rig up an apparatus to confine this high-priced protector of chickens. The cable is attached to two pine trees some 10 feet off the ground so that our couple need not fear being decapitated while wandering around in the dark of the night, and because they love this dog, the length of the run can best be measured in acre lengths rather than in running feet.
With the coming of spring our couple’s thoughts turn to tilling the soil and putting up succulent vegetables to enjoy through the coming year. They plant, weed, sow, hoe, chop, hill, and work until they fairly limp back to the house, all the while mouths watering thinking about fresh sliced tomatoes, fried okra, creamed corn, green beans with ham hocks, ice cold watermelon, and salads galore made with crisp cucumbers, colorful peppery radishes, and more of those juicy diced tomatoes. Their spirits soar as they begin to harvest some of their vegetables, but slowly begin to wane as they see holes eaten through beet and cabbage leaves.
It isn’t long before squash bugs, cabbage loopers, and giant “foot-long” tomato horn worms are plucked off vines and fed to the ducks and geese to try and save these precious plants. Long gone are any thoughts of pure organic produce, and farmerette begins to pour over ads in magazines looking for flame-throwers or anything that can be sprayed or powdered on the plants to annihilate the flying, creeping, or crawling vegetable-terrorizing garden pests.
Lest we forget, now might be a good time to point out that God is Good, but Mother Nature has a nasty sense of humor as evidenced by days of heavy rain followed by weeks of drought, corn-flattening wind, and a blazing sun so hot the chickens begin to lay boiled eggs. Farmer and farmerette join one hose after another to reach from faucet to sprinkler to supply life-giving cool water from a 185 foot deep well in order to produce rain artificially only to find themselves replacing the pump which, it seems, was too old to stand up to the demands of such watering.
Gentle reader, do not despair for as long as the mercantile remains stocked with hoes, shovels, broadforks, hatchets, hammers, hoses, lumber, nails, hedge trimmers, chain saws, wheelbarrows, garden wagons, paint, brushes, bulbs, seed, potted plants, Pyrethrin, sprayers, waterers, feeders, fertilizer, pelletized lime, tomato stakes, wire fencing, fence posts, clamps, hoses, extension cords, scratch feed, layer pellets, starter grower, grower finisher, cracked corn, Alpo for the fur ball, rawhide chews, and the like, our happy couple will continue to live the life of Riley, occasionally even finding time to cuddle up in that hammock and look up into the kaleidoscope of color the sun makes shining on the leaves rustling in the breeze. Life is Good.
Pleasant tidings yall! Vickie, aka thehistoricfoodie,© – thehistoricfoodie.wordpress.com