Sunday, September 13, 2009

Revenge of the laying hens.

My mother grew up on a farm in New Jersey. You're probably thinking, "New Jersey?? They have farms in New Jersey? I thought it was just a giant suburb of New York City!" But yes, they have farms still. Years ago, New Jersey was mostly farmland. Heck, even their license plates are the color of straw.

Her dad, my granddaddy, had dairy cows and chickens. Mom tells stories of riding atop one of the cows when they were moving them between pastures, poking other cows with a stick to make them go faster. When Mom grew up and was being courted by my dad, he would come visit occasionally, and my grandfather would put him to work.

One day, he gave my dad the task of collecting eggs in the henhouse. Daddy didn't like that job much, because when you reached under a hen to get her eggs, she would peck your hand. On this particular day, I guess Daddy wasn't in the mood for any chicken guff, and when the first hen pecked at him, he slapped her in the head. He reached in again, and she retaliated with another painful peck. This time, he grabbed her by the neck and flung her out of the box. She repaid him by laying an egg in midair.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother suggested once that I take the basket and go collect the eggs. She assured me all the chickens would be outside and wouldn't bother me. As I walked across the barnyard, I saw a group of hens pecking away at the dirt, so when I got to the henhouse, I walked right in. There I was met by an ancestor of the chicken my daddy had flung from her roost many years before. Apparently, the legend had been handed down for generations, and the hens were out for revenge. She came charging at me, squawking and flapping and scarring my psyche for life. Someone else collected the eggs that day.

Then just a few years ago, our neighbors in Tennessee asked us to care for their chickens while they were away for a few days. They told us we could have the eggs while we were caring for them. I remembered with some apprehension the aggression shown by that hen those many years ago, but agreed to the task.

The first day I went down to take care of them, I realized I could give them water and feed before I opened the coop, and therefore wouldn't have to be so close to them. I did that, then flung open the coop door and ran. Everything went according to plan and I was satisfied with myself. I was hosing off the back patio (where the chickens liked to leave, uh, deposits), when one curious hen came toward me. I told her to back off, even waved my arms and yelled a little. When she kept coming toward me with that look in her eye, I turned the hose on her full force. She was blown over, rolling like a tumbleweed across the yard. I'm sure the chickens are still telling that story around the roost of an evening.

But don't get me wrong. I love chickens. In a roasting pan.

Be thankful ~


1 comment:

Catherine said...

I prefer my chickens in roasting pans, too.

When my brother, Eddie, was about 4 years old, he went with our Grandpop into the chicken coop -- the hens pecked all the buttons off his sweater (my mother was fit to be tied!).