Feb 26, 2008

The Unreconstructed Chicken

How can a man be humble when he's got a cock that looks this good?

That's dear Vincent, king of the roost, cock o'the walk. Proud as Punch and meaner than a three-eyed water moccasin. Yes, the life of a hobby farmer is filled with old, unused terms and sayings that come from the bayous. Isn't he a handsome cuss, though?

I've come to like the chickens a lot, I'll admit it. When the idea was first breached, when we had a cage full of day-old peepers, when the money seemed to be flowing like red red krovvy from a freshly-opened artery I held my peace. My only previous experience with chickens involved bare feet, a back yard and an unfortunate but very memorable encounter with a rather massive chicken turd. Know how pleasurable squishing mud between your bare toes can be? Not so with a chicken turd. 'Nuff said.

So now, six months into chicken ranching, I have to say I've relaxed that original hatred. Just a bit. Not only are the eggs really good and now very plentiful but the birds themselves are interesting, and not as disgusting as I first feared. Being raised in the country I'm no stranger to animal waste and the smells that always come with having animals in large quantities. Cow manure was a constant background odor and presence in my childhood, and is equated in my mind with warm summer days and a sort of earthy goodness. Horses? Sweet smells of large animals and hay, tremendous warmth and strength. Animals in general, the smells of living creatures and sweet feed and hay and dirt are good things, speak to me of health and life and vitality. Cats and dogs and all variety of critters speckle my childhood and adult years, filling those times with good memories, and now chickens are added to the roster under the "Good" column.

A few weekends ago I wandered out to the coop with Mrs. Chicken Rancher to take a few photos, to see how the egg production was going (up to 10 a day now on average) and to help out where I could. I ended up spending almost an hour in the coop, squatting in the fresh pine shavings watching and listening to the girls wander around, making their whole range of trills and purrs and clucks and noises. Smelling the warm smell of animals, and the sweet smells of feed and the hay lining their nest boxes. Feeling the gentle tug as one of the girls tried to eat a bootlace. Brushing my fingers across their feathered backs and under their necks, surprised at the softness and the intricate way each and every feather fits, making of the whole a seamless, efficient design.

(One of the girls on a nest. I was holding the camera at a strange angle so I could capture all of her tail.)

There's something about watching animals go about the business of living their lives that appeals to me, sort of like watching a garden grow well, only faster and with more pecking order enforced. Watching one of the hens get off the nest and touching the warm tan eggs was an experience. Seeing the new girls settle in with the established flock (we were given six more hens from a friend) was interesting, and finding out that the upset wasn't nearly as big as we feared was a pleasant surprise. Learning that the hens are perfectly willing to share a nest with others, as many as three or four different birds each using the same nest made me realise just how social birds can actually be.

(Two of the new hens playing mirror image. Their bodies look a little misshapen because the previous owner had cropped their wings.)

It's been quite an experience. I never knew chickens would eat, much less enjoy pasta. Never knew that chickens loved fresh grass as part of their diet. I'd never before had a chicken sitting on my arm to realise that their feet, as scaly and vile as they might look are surprisingly, comfortably warm. The fresh eggs on Sunday mornings with breakfast are a very welcome addition, and while we're not saving a gazillion dollars on grocery bills with them there is always the joy that comes of sharing with friends and family, sharing something that you work hard for.

Plus it's hard not to get a good photograph even on a cloudy day when you're working with a bird decorated in primary colours!

Now if only I could do something about the poo.


Gordo said...

This is exactly what I'd do if I weren't stuck inside the city limits. My childhood was also full of wonderful farm aromas, feelings and sounds. My Grandpa's farm, but a farm.

Chickens, I could always respect. They're not particularly demanding, they don't smell like pigs, they're not stupid like sheep and fresh eggs have a flavour that's second to none.

Damn cities and their by-laws. It's anti-animal, is what it is.

Nancy Dancehall said...

*sigh* What I would give...

Actually, I'd raise ducks. *s*

So if you turn them loose in the garden will they eat the pests, or would they eat only the friendly species?

We're getting farm fresh (actually backyard fresh)eggs now from a former customer. There is no comparison between fresh and store-bought eggs.

One of these days we'll get our beehives going. Just worried about what the neighbors will say. Course a jar of honey would probably keep them quiet.

Here, have a disjointed novel.

Scott from Oregon said...

I love chickens too...

DO you know the joke about the old rooster and the upstart roosters who keep getting shot by the farmer for being queer?

Mona Buonanotte said...

What a sense memory! I too grew up in the country, and the smell of horse and cow manure, in all their earthy summery goodness, always makes me nostalgic and relaxed. My co-workers, of course, think I'm crazy, as I step out of the front door of the office and take a deep breath for a whiff of the horse farm across the road...mmmm...horsey....

Maggie said...

What do you do with the poo?

How's that for a poetic question?

I wish we had a farm. I want a cow so I can have unpasteurized milk to make cheese and butter and cream. I want chickens for fresh eggs. I want more space more more more for kids and dogs to run free. But, then I'd have a lot more work on my hands...

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, you're right on the money about pigs--we raised a piglet one year for slaughter that winter, and my GODS that thing stank. Acrid, sharp and altogether unpleasant.

Sure tasted good, tho. *lol*

Nancy, my father loved Mallards, and we raised them for years...what fun to watch them roving around the pond. I always loved that sort of gurgling they made when they were content.

As for the chickens, honestly I'm not sure, and might have to try it. The only fear I have with letting them loose is hawk predation--we've got lots of hawks around here.

Bees...my brother has a friend keeping three skeps on his property. I've yet to see any honey from them even after sharing eggs but I do recall with fondness pouring honey from a Mason jar and seeing a pale white length of comb floating therein.

Thank you for the novel!

Scott, I know every chicken joke involving bars or roads and the crossing thereof, but I have to admit ignorance of that one...

A horse farm, Mona? Lucky! One year I helped a friend of a friend take care of some retired racehorses. 'Otto' was this one old champion's name, and I'd help curry brush him. They finally asked me to stop coming because they kept finding me just standing there, arms across his huge barrel or wrapped around his neck with my face pressed up against his hide.

GODS he smelled wonderful, and was so gentle. He'd stand there quietly as long as I liked. I like to think he enjoyed the attention as much as I enjoyed his company. He was also the first and only horse I ever rode--magic.

Poetic, no, but realistic yes! Compost, that's the final step for the poo, Maggie. The stuff in their henyards just gets worked into the soil as fertilizer, and the poo mixed with wood shavings that keeps their coop clean is composted and returned to either my garden or around my little pine seedlings in the field. Dried chicken waste makes EXCELLENT fertilizer. *S* Waste not, want not.

Scott from Oregon said...

A farmer tosses a new rooster into the hen house. He is a real cock. They call him J. Holmes just because...

An old rooster limps up to him, knowing what will come next (a cock fight) and suggests that rather than get all bloodied, the two roosters have a "race" instead.

The younf rooster, dumb as a cock, agrees.

"But I," says the old battered bird, am old and have a weak leg. Therefore, I think it only sporting that you give me half a lap head start in a ten lap race around the inside perimeter of our yard."

The young cock agrees to this (he IS cocky, after all).

The race is set up, and they are off.

The hens all go wild and cluck madly.

The old rooster does adecent job but the young rooster gains on him shortly, and by lap six, is right on his ass...


The young cock explodes in a plume of feathers and blood.

The old rooster runs and settles back into the mix of hens.

Standing at the chickenwire, shotgun still held aloft and smoking, is the farmer...

"Damn! That's the third faggot roster I've brought home this week..."

Joan of Argghh! said...

You realize that I'm just aching for another reason to post a link to your blog that includes the word, "cock".

As if my google hits weren't weird enough as it is.


Mother of Invention said...

Brings more meaning to the expression, "You chicken shit!" doesn't it?!!

Clowncar said...

I have glorious memories of checking for eggs every morning at my grandparents house.

So will you eat the chickens themselves eventually, after their egg laying days are over?

Chickens like pasta, eh? Who knew?

Vulgar Wizard said...

Daaaaaamn, I didn't know you were getting a zebra chicken!!!!

Irrelephant said...

Joan, go with it! I can't wait!

Mother, raising these dang birds for six months now has taught me just how MANY common expressions came from people who raised chickens. It's crazed, it is!

Clowncar, I found out a few days ago that the average chicken can be a productive egg layer for fifteen YEARS, and has a lifespan of thirty plus years. If any of them live long enough to stop laying eggs and do nothing but eat and shite then I'll let you know. *G*

VW, I didn't either until I saw it out in the yard!