By Jerry Schleicher — Illustrated by Brian Orr
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.
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.
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.