My favorite meal is fried chicken. If I am ever awaiting the hangman's noose, I'll request my wife's fried chicken as my final meal. Her fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy is pure heaven.
Having said that, I must admit – with all due respect to poultry enthusiasts – I do not care for live chickens. They're nasty, they smell and they are not smart.
I know about disgusting chicken habits because we raised Leghorns while I was growing up. To recount my childhood memories of country life and raising poultry, those times might seem like one long series of funny chicken stories. But it hardly seemed like a joke then. Especially with a mean rooster involved.
I was the family chicken foreman on our poultry farm, and I made sure the chicks had starter feed and fresh water. It was also my responsibility to change the newspapers lining the floor of the brooder.
Tiny yellow chicks quit being cute the second they start growing feathers and begin pecking at each other to establish hierarchy in the flock. As soon as feathers formed, it was time to relocate them to the chicken house.
Our chicken house had a low ceiling, a straw-covered floor, and a wall of nesting boxes. Outside, a trough contained cracked corn and barley. I carried buckets of water from the hydrant to fill their waterer.
Ours were free-range chickens, unrestrained in any way. Our chickens could roam anywhere in the farmyard, the feedlot or the cow pasture, which granted them access to grasshoppers and spilled grain.
I also collected eggs. Although most of our chicks were destined to become fryers, a few lucky hens were assigned the job of supplying our eggs. Any hen that failed to produce an egg for several days likely found herself without a job. I held the power of life or death over the nonperformers.
Sometimes a hen would suddenly discover her instinct for sitting on her eggs and complicate my egg-collecting duty. A young broody hen sitting on eggs could easily be shooed away, but the cranky old biddies pecked angrily at me when I attempted to retrieve their eggs.
The part of the job I hated most was the chicken nest cleaning, and I would put it off as long as possible. Then, while holding my nose, I'd scrape out each box and reline it with fresh straw.
My folks ordered young roosters as well as pullets; young roosters fry up just as nice as hens. Sometimes, though, one crusty old rooster would decide to rule over the hens, the barnyard cats and our dog. Once he even tried to face me down, but I wasn't having any of it.
The same could not be said of my younger brother, Jeff, who was 4 or 5 years old the summer when our resident rooster decided to mess with him. The rooster waited in ambush each time Jeff stepped outdoors. No sooner would Jeff come outside than the rooster would run at him with flapping wings and peck at Jeff's legs and feet. This resulted in loud screaming and crying.
The rooster's mission was accomplished, and he would then crow loudly to inform his harem that he was still in charge. He'd then await Jeff's next appearance.
The rooster attack recurred over and over, for weeks. As an older brother, I found Jeff's dilemma hilarious – but my mother did not. One Saturday morning, my mother asked me to catch Mr. Leghorn. She met me at the chopping block and, with one fell swoop, the rooster games were over. We had chicken stew on Sunday,
the rooster's reign of terror at an abrupt end. But to this day, Jeff does not eat chicken. Not even in revenge.
To read more about Jerry's tales, read "Raising Chickens can be an Adventure" at Grit.