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OPINION: Chicken tales

by Devin Houston | April 7, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

One of my nephews moved back to the family homestead temporarily as his family looks for permanent housing in the area. Just for fun, they bought some chicks to raise, much to the delight of their young children and my granddaughter. We documented their enjoyment with dozens of photos. Nothing says spring more than a child holding a chick with a background of blooming jonquils.

So, the tradition of keeping chickens continues to the next generation of our family. We never raised them for profit, only for the meat and eggs. When we moved to Siloam Springs 50 years ago, one of the first things the neighbors told us was: "Don't raise chickens; you'll lose your shirt!" The farm we had just purchased did include three old chicken houses, but Dad knew better than to mess with chickens for a living.

Dad was raised on a farm and worked the usual chores assigned to children, including the care of poultry. Once he had a family and five acres in New Mexico, he ordered chicks by mail and put them in a small barn built by his father-in-law. My brother and I took on the chores of feeding, watering and cleaning the chicken house.

Lessons were learned. Three chickens formed a group we referred to as "The Bug Patrol" since they ran free in the garden to hunt grasshoppers and other pests. The Patrol had its own separate quarters in a small hut, and it was our job to make sure the door was closed after they entered to roost for the night. One evening we forgot to do so, and skunks killed The Patrol.

Dad liked to raise exotic chickens such as Polish Crested and Araucanas and more traditional Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds. The Araucanas were a favorite due to the different colors of eggs laid. We did not care for the Polish roosters as they were sneaky and vicious, with very long spurs. They would attack us while in the chicken pen, but only if our backs were turned, a cowardly act, but they were, after all, chickens. We hated them.

One, in particular, was crazy, striking other chickens and pecking hens to the point they lost feathers. Dad decided to make an example of him to the other roosters. With the .22 rifle in one hand and the angry bird in the other, he walked out to the pasture. He threw the rooster away from him, put some distance between him and it, and aimed the rifle. The deranged bird began running towards my dad, like a bull in an arena. We watched, not breathing, as Dad seemed to wait forever to shoot. When he did, the rooster became a flurry of feathers in the desert wind. The other chickens got the message.

We had no problems eating the roosters we raised, most likely because of their evilness, but also because nothing tastes better than chickens raised by one's own efforts. Dad only shot the one rooster; he dispatched others by wringing their necks, an act that enthralled and horrified us. In less than ten seconds, using some kind of furious wrist action, he would be holding the chicken's head in one hand while the rest of the bird flopped in the grass. It was an apt display of the saying "running around like a chicken with its head off." Dad tried to teach us the technique, but we never figured it out. Just ended up swinging the chicken by its head, mostly.

Dad still raised a few chickens in his later years; they were more like pets than farm animals. One hen fancied riding in a wheelbarrow as Dad pushed it around the garden. She came to a sad end, though. Dad's beagle, Penny, for some reason (jealousy?), grabbed the bird during one of the wheelbarrow excursions and ran off with it. She never bothered the chickens previously or thereafter. I believe Dad actually shed tears over the hen's passing.

Soon we will be eating delicious, fresh eggs with orange, peaked yolks, a testament to healthy chickens fed on scraps, bugs and cracked corn. Maybe some of the roosters will be crazy and end up on the grill. Dad would be pleased that his grandchildren carry on the tradition.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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