I'm three in this picture and already I had a love affair with chickens. This one was my favorite, she was a Rhode Island Red, just like the Little Golden Book’s “Little Red Hen!” My parents lived in town but had a few hens to provide fresh eggs daily. Free range was not even in the American vocabulary, letting the hens forage for worms and fresh grass was just their normal day. I have pictures of me pushing that hen in my doll stroller, I’m not kidding!
My Grandparents lived on a real farm and had chickens and cows. When we would go to visit I loved feeding the chickens their “scratch”, a coarse ground corn and mixed grain. They would crowd around clucking, grateful for the scraps that came from Grandma’s kitchen. The hens had a “pecking order” that determined where they would fly up to roost in the chicken house at night. My Grandma pointed out things like that and it stuck with me. The Rooster was not docile like the hens, he would keep a healthy distance always watching over his flock. Living in the country meant their were dangers to the hens, like hawks, fox or snakes. His crowing was a way to alert the girls “Heads up, danger!” Roosters were bigger, more colorful and came equipped with a big beak and spurs on their legs that they would use to defend. A bad Rooster sometimes would misbehave and try to “flog” Grandma…big mistake. He could end up making a delicious pot of dumplings! Most times she simply would fluff her apron at him and that was enough to correct his impudence.
The chickens served double purpose on the farm, keeping the bugs and snakes at bay and providing delicious eggs and fried chicken. Yes, Grandma tenderly cared for that flock of chickens, but make no mistake they were there for food. During the Depression my Grandparents would sell eggs and dressed hens to the local market for income. My Mother can remember in the early spring Grandma would order “peeps,” newly hatched chicks and when they would arrive they would be kept in the kitchen to keep warm until the weather turned nice. It would have been easy to think of them as pets, cute little yellow sun drops!
We have a store called Orchelin’s Farm and Home here and they have a great selection of chicks and ducks. We go in to buy sunflower seeds and deer corn but I dream about getting a nice little chicken yard going. I know that’s not possible, my neighbors wouldn’t share my love of chickens. Just think... they could eat my nasty little bugs and scratch around the yard. They could supply me with chicken poo. They could soothe my ears with their soft cluck cluck clucking noises.
It’s wonderful having fresh eggs to enjoy. They do taste different than store-bought and definitely have brighter colored yolks. If you are lucky enough to live close to farming communities, search out a source of fresh eggs. Here in Arkansas if you keep your eyes peeled as you travel the country roads you’ll see a sign up ahead, “Fresh Eggs for Sale”. Take the time to go down that dirt road a piece and visit with a chicken farmer. You will be rewarded with a simple pleasure that’s good for you!