Monday, April 27, 2009
Batmo's Chicken Barnyard
The Infamous Foghorn Leghorn
I just read this post over at the blogsite of a good friend of mine. Her name is Betmo, but I call her Batmo. She writes at a lot of blogs. Her own is called Life's Journey. Sometimes I think I’m a little hard on her by calling her pet names like Batmo or Batmaniac and stuff, but this post about the idea of her raising chickens a turkey and a pig seemed outrageous enough to warrant the moniker.
She’s been into the garden and being greener overall for a while now. It is a sound prospect to instill the idea that the way it looks with the economy and world view, war, politics and overall selfishness and greed that we might start thinking along the lines of self preservation. Growing our own food and doing our bits and pieces to save the planet are certainly not out of order for so many reasons not to mention the ones I mentioned.
The thing is, well, I raised chickens once. I had a couple of horses and some cattle too. I also had this great big garden, tapped maple trees for sap to make syrup and sugar, hunted and fished and had a passive solar heated house way back in the 1980’s. It’s not Batmo’s idea of doing the things we need, or rather should do, to be better prepared for citizenship of a spoiled world, but it is the idea of raising chickens in her backyard that I wonder about.
Real cute when they're little chicks.
Let me tell you a little about my experience in the matter. It was around 1982. We had just moved into this decrepit eight foot wide by fifty foot long thin walled uninsulated mobile home on a grand 20 acres along the Snake River in East Central Minnesota’s Pine County. We bought the property for the property, not the home. We planned to upgrade as soon as we could. Our dream was to become as self sufficient as we could possibly be.
We had been reading Mother Earth News and our dreaming heads were filled with fantastic ideas of growing all of our own food and using natural resources to heat our home. At one time, we actually thought we could live in the shed that we eventually made into a henhouse. It was a nice size shed. Actually a large storage area with a wooden floor, and a side area with a dirt floor, all under a good roof cover. This is where I decided to put the hen house after we decided we’d build a house instead of converting the shed to live in.
Our Hen House was similar to this one.
I had a nice ramp set-up and a small door opening for the chickens to gain entry. I put in a roosting grandstand. There was straw on the floor and plenty of dirt with the gravel they need to scratch. It was a nice layout. I stored the feed in the other side of the shed and could spread it either inside or out in front of the doorway.
I ordered 100 chicks from the farm store co-op early in Spring. I hung brooding heat lamps and made a small corral out of corrugated cardboard to keep them warm until they grew a bit. They got food and water and started to grow rather rapidly. One hundred chickens was a lot of chickens!
The hen house was looking pretty full. I was learning about separating them and desexing some of them. I never thought I’d have a bunch of roosters around and would propagate a new batch of chicks over and over. Buying the large tray of 100 chicks was convenient and simple and would provide the new stock in the future.
One morning, I wandered out of the house to do some early morning chores. It was a fine Spring day. The sun was up and the day had begun a few hours before I actually got my lazy ass out there to feed. That’s when I saw the most surreal thing I had ever seen in my life. Flat chickens. Yes, they were laying all around the hen house, flatter than pancakes! Looks like something had sucked the blood out of every damn one of ‘em. And that’s exactly what had happened.
The weasel before he sucked the blood out of all my chickens.
I’m from Chicago. I grew up in the city. If I saw chickens, they were on the side of the road in a farm yard along one of the slow roads in Wisconsin. Either that, or I saw them in a LoonyToons cartoon. Like Foghorn Leghorn way back there bat the beginning of this post. We used to always go to Wisconsin to drink because the legal age was eighteen and in Illinois it was twenty one. That’s where you might see a chicken or two or a sign that said fresh eggs were for sale and then you knew the farmer raised chickens.
This is the part of the story where I start to speak with a real thick southern drawl.
I had this land and was raisin’ chickens, but never thought I’d ever see flat ones. I rushed back to the house and told the good wife about the site I just saw. She scrambled out and we gazed upon the flat chickens together, not knowing what to think. Was we in one of them there Twighlight Zones?
The well dressed well fed weasel showing off to his friends.
We started cleaning up the mess. I had more than a wheelbarrow full of flat carcasses and went out in the woods and buried the lot. I went out to try to find out what had happened. I went into Dwight Lightfoot’s dairy farm, where we’d buy milk now and again, and asked Dwight right out. He told me that I had been attacked by a weasel. He told me that they could sneak into a small crevice and suck the life out of ‘em chickens, and that’s exactly what happened.
I went around the hen house and put boards up where ever there was a crack or a split in the sidin’. I put up hardware cloth with the small holes and did away with the open doorway. I’ll decide when the chickens can go outside, and I’d get ‘em all inside afore shuttin’ the door at night!
Hardware cloth used to keep the weasels out of the hen house.
We bought another 100 chicks and started all over with the heat lamps and the corral. That worked for about a month, but then the weasel did it again. But this time, he didn’t get all the chickens. I had about a dozen that ole weasel missed. I really fortified the barracks now and I was determined to save these dozen chickens.
We did, and they grew. I had about six hens and got about six eggs. Not six eggs a day, six eggs total from the whole time I raised chickens and fed ‘em and hunted through the straw for eggs. The rest were roosters and we didn’t make capons out of ‘em or anything. We just waited until they looked big enough to eat and then slaughtered them and had dinner.
Okay, I’ll go back to regular Midwest dialect now and lose the southern accent.
I read how to slaughter and clean a chicken on the farm from an old book called Foxfire. The Foxfire series had a plethora of information about how to get things done without buying all the fancy equipment that was available for these kind of down home country living. I should have been readin' THIS GUY.
They said to get a stump and place it down and put a couple of nails in the top of the stump, about two inches apart. You gather up the desired chicken and place the neck between the nails and stretch the body out. Then, you’d chop off the head with an axe. Well, that would be fine if you had one of the kids chase down the chicken, then catch one, then put it in the nails and hold it still while I grabbed the axe and did the hittin’.
But alone, it was impossible and I found a better way. I walked around in the hen yard with my 12 gauge shotgun. I had what was called a long tom, a real long 36” barrel on my shotgun because I used it to hunt geese in the Fall. I’d walk slow and not chase anything. Those chickens just stood there. If I made a move towards them, they’d run, so I just stood there real calm with that long tom and placed the end of the barrel real close to the head and blasted the heads off. < southern::They was butchered cleaner than any old axe would do and I didn’t have to chase ‘em around atall!::end southern>
Regular 12 gauge shotgun
Then the feather plucking chore had to be done. That was a mess. Feathers everywhere. Blowing into your hair, up your nostrils. And did it stink! Then they had to be gutted and washed. It took hours to clean one chicken. And they didn’t look at all like the ones you buy in the store. They were bruised and the skin was off here and on there because we didn’t know how to pluck properly.
This is a long 36" barrel 12 gauge shotgun, sometimes called a "Long Tom"
The kids wouldn’t eat them because they said they smelled bad. They still had the smell of the slaughter in their noses and when it came time to eat, they said they could still smell them and that chicken from the store didn’t have that smell. Then there was crooked toe.
Crooked Toe was the name giving to one of the chickens. It had a real obvious crooked toe and it was identifiable by this physical trait. Actually, the kids named all the chickens by color or sex or crooked toes or streaks of meanness. The chickens were like pets and they didn’t understand the idea of growing food. Growed food was garden food. Chickens was animals and therefore they were pets. Remind me to tell you about the cattle some day.
So, we slaughtered Crooked Toe and was gonna have him for dinner. We served it up and no one wanted to eat because they new this chicken personally. And even though we obviously didn’t serve the feet with the crooked toe, the kids knew which one was on the platter and wouldn’t eat because they went and talked with their pet chickens everyday and saw Crooked Toe was missing from the hen yard.
No Batmo, don’t raise chickens. Buy ‘em from the store. If your neighbor raises them, let your neighbor do the butcherin’ too. You’re in for nothing but trouble if you try to raise your own chickens. Now that turkey and the pig you was talkin’ about might be another story. I’ll do some thinkin’ an’ get back to ye.