Monday, 08 October 2012
Loved to Death
By Mary B Summerlin who keeps a photostream at Flickr
Living on the farm meant that there were always chickens. We would start off with 100 biddies and keep them in the brooder house. There would be a big heat lamp to keep them warm and we would feed and water them in that self-contained area.
I loved them and would spend hours watching them, holding them and talking to them. Time passed and they grew into pullets. That’s about teen age years for us.
At that time, decisions were made by the adults of the family. Some pullets were killed, defeathered, cut up and put in the freezer to see us through the winter. Some were used immediately for the Sunday dinner table. Some were selected to go to the hen house. That meant they would be our layers. They were put in a special designed house that Daddy and helpers built. It used the most up-to-date ideas of the time.
I remember one that really struck me. The lights were to stay on all night so that they couldn’t tell day and night and that was supposed to make them lay more eggs. I don’t know if it’s true or if that is still done. But it was the cutting edge at that time.
The eggs were used by us and the extra were sold to neighbors, friends and at the farmers market.
The biddies and pullets were contained in the brooder house until they were big enough to let out in the fenced in yard. The hens were let out in the yard – free range. I remember feeding them by scattering cracked corn in the yard, calling them and they would come running.
There was always one rooster. Sometimes he was a nice one and other times he would be a mean one. If he was mean, he would try to peck you with his big sharp beek or he would try to spur you. To spur you meant, to jump up on you and scratch you with his spur which was just above his foot.
I liked the chickens, taking care of them, feeding and watching them. I did not like walking barefoot where chickens had pooped. Ohhh, it was an awful squeeshing feeling. After the first time you stepped in the poop, you never went in the chicken yard barefoot again.
Surely by now you are wondering what love has to do with this. It’s about my little brother, Smith. He was about three years old and I was about 10 years old. He loved the chickens. He thought they were beautiful and they were – Rhode Island Reds.
One summer mid-morning, my mother went to check on the pullets and found one dead. She picked it up and looked it over. It didn’t seem to have been sick. It showed no signs of another animal attacking and killing it. It was truly a puzzle. What could it be that killed this healthy looking chicken?
She talked to Daddy and since they couldn’t decide what to do they did nothing but watch. A few days later, Mama was again in the chicken pen and this time she found two healthy looking pullets dead.
What in the world could it be? What was happening? A few days later – same thing except it was just one this time. Mama and Daddy were very puzzled and could not come up with a satisfactory answer.
A few days later, Mama happened to be looking at the chicken pen from the back porch and she saw Smith go up to the wire fence, get down on his hands and knees where there was a hole, lift up the fence as far as it would go and slither under it. Now he’s in the chicken yard.
He grabs the first pullet he can catch and begins to give her a bear hug. Well, a little bit of that and he has killed the chicken. He tried to catch a few more but couldn’t so he went back to the fence, crawled under it and went on about the business of a three-year-old.
But now Mama knew what was happening to the chickens. She told Daddy and they had a private talk and laugh about what had happened. Then, as Mama was washing Smith up for supper, she asked him about the chickens. She wanted to know if he could get in the chicken yard.
“Oh yes”, he said. “There is a hole and I can crawl in it and under the fence.”
And then Mama asked, “What would you do while you were in the chicken yard?”
He said, “Love the chickens.”
“How would you do that?” asked Mama.
“Catch one and give him a big hug,” said Smith as he wrapped his arms around Mama.
She gave Smith a big hug right back and told him he couldn’t love the chickens like that anymore because it hurt the chickens.
“Okay,” he said and the subject changed to something more interesting to him – like driving his toy tractor in the dust roads he made under the house.
The next day Mama went out and filled up the hole and staked the fence better. Yes, you can love something to death.
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