Farm Horizons, May 1998

The chicken story: too much of a good thing

By ANDREA VARGO

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson when I bought a cow and had too much milk for one family. I didn't. I never do.

I like eggs, but I've never really gotten close to a chicken, emotionally.

However, there is something about a fluffy, yellow ball that peeps. They are cute that first day or two.

So, when I walked into the Centra Sota store in Buffalo that day, I was assaulted by the sight of hundreds of adorable day-old chicks.

I will not divulge the name of the young man who talked me into 500 free baby chicks.

He was blond and had glasses, and that's all I'll say. You know who you are!

Of course, I had to purchase feed for them, heat lamps, and waterers. My husband ungraciously pointed out that they were not quite free.

I did this all on my own. I didn't even have the kids with me.

The thought of fried chicken by the panful and eggs galore just pulled me right into the trap.

The fact that they were cute had nothing to do with it. Really!

Besides I couldn't leave them homeless. The nice young man said they might just kill them because they ordered too many. I couldn't let that happen, could I?

Then I got home and reality set in. I couldn't put them in the barn. We didn't have a barn.

So, we kicked the Shetland pony out of her shelter and put them there.

It wasn't big and 500 chicks in boxes take up a lot more room when you let them loose.

I hung heat lamps, filled feeders and waterers, and put down bedding.

They were all peeping happily away, when I left that evening.

The next morning there weren't quite as many peeping. It seems the chicks under the heat lamps got too hot, but those not quite as close were too cold and piled on top of each other to keep warm.

Either way, they died . . . by the ice cream bucketful . . . every day.

I adjusted heat lamps, put in jugs of warm water, even tried the heating pad I used for newborn puppies.

The little rats just kept dying, and chickens stink, even alive.

This was a case of survival of the luckiest. Thirty-eight chickens lived to eating size.

I don't know how lucky they were, though.

I kept 12 hens to provide eggs, and they all died of old age or Labradoritis (being carried around by a Labrador puppy).

The rest were made into something. What? Your guess is as good as mine.

Since I kept putting off the butchering day, they just got bigger and bigger. Ate well, they did.

By the time I finally convinced myself I could chop off heads, they were quite large.

So, I chopped a head, and then puked behind the bushes.

This sequence went on for about six chickens. Then I took the smelly, lifeless bodies to a pot of hot water and dunked them.

I can't begin to tell you how much I hate the smell of wet chicken feathers.

Cleaned and cut up, I fried up my first pan full of chicken. It was so tough, we needed a steak knife to cut it off the bones to give to the dogs.

I tried boiling them and got the most tasteless stuff, except for a hint of wet chicken feathers.

The pressure cooker made them soft and stringy.

The only way to eat them was to put the pressure-cooked chicken through the blender, add chopped celery, salt, pepper, and lots of mayonnaise to make a spread for sandwiches.

Do you know how many sandwiches you can make out of about 25 chickens?

I don't know, but I always felt I could still taste the feathers.

The eggs from the chickens we kept went well with the cream from Janet the cow to make homemade noodles and other goodies.

Someday I will have some more laying chickens. Perhaps I will only have six, though, and I will purchase them fully grown.

Actually, I do have a couple of chickens, but they are banty chickens and are not in danger of being eaten.

They line up by my kitchen window every morning with the two kittens and beg for food.

They are terrible freeloaders, but eat a lot of flies and other crawly things. They are cute, crow a lot, and haven't died at all . . . except for the one that was eaten by an eagle.

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