“If you were plowing a field, which would you rather use? Two strong oxen or 1,024 chickens?”
— Seymour Cray
If you have ever been a farmer with livestock, no one needs to tell you there are upsides and downsides to the venture.
If a person keeps livestock, some days feel like a comedy routine on bent wheels.
I’ve never kept chickens on our farm, but know a little bit about them. They start out so cute you can barely take your eyes away from them.
Then they grow in leaps and bounds and give eggs. That’s pretty much all I know, in a nutshell.
Memories from my childhood include adorable little chicks in my grandfather’s back yard.
My aunt told us we could look but not touch, and we were fascinated by those tiny little puffballs of yellow fluff.
Aunt Marilyn would carry a little bit of chicken feed in her turned-up apron and call to them in her special baby-chick voice so they got to know her.
I remember low pans of feed and water in which those chicks would jump and play endlessly. I also remember that they didn’t all grow and thrive.
It might have been my first heartbreak, finding a tiny, lifeless chick in the corner of the pen. I thought we should go get the Bible and hold a special chick-sized funeral.
We could even build a little coffin out of popsicle sticks. My aunt thought not.
She basically told me, “It happens all the time, and we don’t have time to be doing little funerals, kid.”
This, coming from the woman who cooked, baked and canned, played piano at the church, and still did laundry in a wringer washer, I realize now she really didn’t have time for a chicken funeral every day of the week, but boy, my heart was set on it.
I once worked with a woman who decided to get a chick for each of her two children, wanting them to see that caring for them, then later gathering their eggs, was a give and take responsibility.
I worried one of those chicks would never make it to the egg-laying stage, but she didn’t seem a bit concerned. I breathed a big sigh of relief when she started bringing eggs to work, so proud of their bounty.
A few months later, a neighbor about to move away gave all of her laying chickens to the children. One day this sweet co-worker sought me out, looking so gravely concerned I feared the worst.
Instead, her question was, “How do I make this stop?” The egg production, the mess, the daily chores, all had gotten terribly out of hand. “It’s just not fun anymore.”
Ah, the novelty had worn off. Kind of like school friends who wanted so badly to stay overnight and milk the cows with us. It usually only took one overnight and early morning to cure them of that.
I think of this when I hear of so many young couples starting back yard chickens. I find myself placing a little bet in my head on just how long the fun will last.
And then what? I fight the urge to tell them that a full-sized chicken coffin is going to take a whole lot of popsicle sticks.