Herald and Journal, Oct. 4, 1999

Free-range to kitchen range?


Our farm isn't going to the dogs, it's going to the birds.

This spring we stopped to visit a neighbor and, as usual, Tom ended up talking longer than I cared to wait. I sat in the car and read, as I usually do during these "just for a few minute" stops.

The conversation started out on the hay that needed cutting, and wound its way through hunting, fishing, and farming.

Bantam chickens pecked their way across the farmyard as the guys talked. The feisty black and white birds seemed to be in charge, despite the fact that there were three dogs hanging around the yard.

When the conversation rolled around to the chickens, our neighbor offered us two roosters and a hen to take along home.

At first we said no, thinking that our dog would probably kill them on sight. Indy is a bird dog, and loves the hunt. Would he ignore three chickens on the loose in his yard? We were sure the results would be disastrous. We finally agreed to take them and give it a try.

Naturally, Indy was very interested when the chickens were set free in his territory. Tom yelled, "No," at him immediately, and gave him a swat. He retreated.

Okay, he would restrain himself if he had to. For a while, at least.

The next day our grandsons walked over from their home on one corner of the farm. They were excited to see the chickens and ran to pick them up. Of course, the chickens ran, the kids ran after them, and Indy joined in.

Luckily, our son-in-law caught Indy in time. Foiled again.

After that, Indy seemed to resign himself to letting the chickens strut around the yard. They hung around out by the pole shed and would roost in the nearby trees at night.

Then one night I came home and Tom told me two more chickens were coming home to roost at the Fink farm. One of our hobby farm neighbors from across the road had decided that his horses and chickens didn't mix. The chickens peck on the horses' hooves and scare them, he said.

So, two more chickens were turned loose in the yard, a black one and a red one. Again, Indy had to learn that they weren't being served for his dinner.

These chickens were bigger, but the banties were completely in charge of the farm yard. If they didn't want Blackie and Red around, they let them know.

Before long, Blackie took up residence in the horse pasture with our old horse and her companion pony. They seemed to get along just fine. If the horses were flustered by the hoof-pecking Blackie, we never saw any sign of it.

I'm the one who has the problem. Blackie likes to crow in the morning. Pardon me, but I thought roosters crowed when the sun came up. This fool crows while it is still dark outside. One good crow to greet the day is never enough for him. He has to keep it up non-stop until I want to go out and wring his neck.

I thought Red was no problem ,until I found out where he likes to roost. His favorite spot is above the seat on Tom's bobcat. Tom found that out the hard way. It seems the rooster has left his calling card there several times and made quite a mess out of the bobcat seat.

One Sunday morning, I was out in the barn getting cows ready and I heard a strange crow. I knew it wasn't Blackie. He never came this far from the horse pasture. It was a different crow. It sounded like the rooster had been cut off in mid-crow, like "Cocka Doodle . . ." He did it again and again. It almost sounded more like a laugh than a crow.

Upon hearing this, Tom rushed toward the bobcat to chase him away, knowing exactly where he was perched for his morning ritual.

I guess you can't blame the chickens. After all, they're only animals, aren't they?

There's one thing those laughing, crowing chickens don't realize, though. I have a pressure cooker, and I know how to use it.

Chicken and dumplings, anyone?

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