By Virginia Ptacek
The Hens and the Rooster’s Revenge
It was a cool, sunny day. Old Mr. Kirchen, being in very bad health, was no longer able to care for all of them. He had begged daddy to take them away to our farm to feed and care for them. Daddy had agreed and that’s how they came to our farm.
It was mom who was the first to feed them all. She filled a five-gallon bucket with milo and started feeding. First she went to the chicken coop. Twenty-three hens were waiting for their daily meal in a small, rectangular building with a 5 foot fence around it. It didn’t take much to feed them all – just about a gallon. Hens aren’t that big and don’t each that much, you know. They’d survive on the smallest amount of grain as long as we threw occasional table scraps into the pen along with the grain. They would even eat their own shells that were tossed in with the garbage after the most recent scrambled egg meal. This provided the calcium needed for them to produce eggs that were thick-shelled, not to crack easily as they were placed into the bucket.
Mom had devised a way to be sure she could gather the eggs without letting her hands and arms get pecked by the protective hens. She decided to try feeding them away from the roosts and when the hens hopped off to get their meal, she would snatch the eggs and place them carefully in the bucket. A couple of dozen eggs daily was the usual prize, plenty enough for the 7 of us with even a few left over to give away. Eventually Melanie, Chrissy, Andrea and Rhonda would feed the hens and gather eggs.
The hens weren’t the only fowl given to us by Old Mr. Kirchen. About fifteen old roosters came with the package deal. We knew they were old when we saw the 2-inch long spurs sticking out of their legs like rose bush thorns just above their feet. Since mom was not interested in raising any chicks, these roosters were the first to be butchered. We can always use chicken in the freezer for an occasional meal, she would say. This proved to be a waste of time as the first rooster that was fried was so tough and chewy even the dog would not eat it when it was thrown out with the table scraps. Grandma came to the rescue on that deal and got us in touch with one of her cousins who liked to make ground chicken sandwich filling out of old hens. Old rooster meat would suit her just fine, as it turned out. All of the old roosters ended up in the lady’s freezer in the town of Beaver except for the one rooster that we could not catch.
The hens were given protection from the coyotes and dogs by keeping them penned up and in a building for shelter at night. Not the rooster. He could never be caught, nor could his wings be clipped to prevent him from flying out of the pen. He was cunning enough to avoid becoming the lunch of the family dog as well. This rooster took it upon himself to be the protector of the hens. Andrea, Rhonda and Doug found that out the hard way. One of their jobs on the farm was to gather household trash, take it outside to metal 50-gallon barrels which sat about ten yards from the chicken coop, and light a match to the trash in the barrels. They also had to watch the fire, making sure to put out any fires that might start as a result of trash spilling out of the cans or floating up and away to the surrounding grass.
One day as they gazed upon the flickering flames of trash, Andrea felt something bump into her leg. Turning around to find out what it was, all the three kids saw was a rooster walking away, paying no mind at all to them, pecking at the ground and acting as if nothing had happened. Not knowing what bumped into her, they turned back to tend the fire. Again, only this time harder, she felt a big hit on her leg. Darned if it wasn’t the old rooster who had flown at her with feet stretched out, landing against her leg and bouncing off. This time the kids ran for their lives, and after that became wary of that rooster.
Even while the kids were playing baseball out in the yard, the rooster would decide to go on the offensive. It would chase them around and around the yard until they dashed to the house, looking for safe haven. So often this would happen that they were afraid to go outside and play without scouting the area to be sure the annoying bird was not around.
One day Andrea, Rhonda, and Doug had just finished playing a bit of baseball and were heading toward the house with balls and bats in hand. Here came the rooster to defend his territory. A surprised and somewhat scared Doug, with bat in hand, defended himself and his sisters by whacking that annoying cock square in the head, knocking it unconscious to the ground. Relieved, but at the same time fearful of what mom would say of the rooster’s demise, they reluctantly hurried to the house and confessed.
Mom and the children ran out to view the dastardly deed, only to find that the old nemesis had seemingly returned back to life, stumbling around the yard like a drunken sailor. Mom wasn’t fast enough to catch him and the kids were too scared of him. All they could do was look at him. Again, the old chanticleer got away scot-free. After that, the baseball bat became the weapon of choice for protection whenever the children would ever-so-cautiously venture outside to play or to burn trash. The rooster kept its distance, however, for quite some time, especially if anyone had a bat in hand. They were ready to whack that rooster should he come near.
Mom had a hard time believing what they had said about the old rooster. Who ever heard of a rooster attacking innocent children? They must be imagining things. It was only after Doug actually took a whack at that rooster that mom started to believe the children. Well, sort of believed them. She would just have to see for herself. Armed with the baseball bat (just in case it WAS true); mom went outside to burn the trash. Lo and behold, the rooster DID jump at mom, landing feet first on her backside. She chased that rooster around the yard, yelling and swinging the baseball bat to no avail. It would suffice to say that mom decided at that moment that this rooster was now ready for the butchering block. The problem was this: it first had to be captured.
After mom’s insistence, dad was persuaded to help rid the farm of the attack rooster, and at the same time clear out all of the old hens. Mom and dad decided that now was the time to butcher all of the old hens and one remaining rooster. After all, the old hens had begun to lay fewer and fewer eggs and the rooster was just plain annoying. A chicken hook was fashioned out of super-heavy gauge wire to catch the hens. Being a wire which was about 4 feet long, the end was in a “u” shape which, after placed in front of the hens’ legs and quickly jerked, was able to snatch them from the ground and into the hands of the butcher. Such was the fate of the hens.
Dad was the expert at butchering hens. As a kid he had frequently helped his mom butcher them. He was real good at taking the hens by the head, swinging them around and around until their heads would just pop off.
The first old hen was butchered without incident. It was easy. Just swing the chicken around until its head pops off. Easy for dad, that is. Mom and the girls never had the strength enough to get the head to pop off. Doug, the only boy in the family at the time, was just too little – being only about 6 years old at the time, he had not yet attained his muscular physique. The first hen mom tried to do just bent its neck enough to make the chicken walk with a crooked neck and a dazed look on its face. She grabbed the dazed chicken by the head, held its body down on the ground with her foot and tried to pop the head off. Still no luck. Consequently, wringing the neck of the remaining hens ended up as daddy’s job.
One by one, the hens’ necks were wrung with daddy’s expertise, and then their feathers had to be pulled off. Andrea, 9, and Rhonda, 8, took off as many feathers as they could, but these old hens seemed to cling to their feathers and not let them go. It was a tough job. Daddy and mom cut open the belly and took out the innards. Doug would then take the naked dead chicken to the house. Melanie, 14, and Chrissy, 12, took the carcass, held it over a burning candle and burned off the little hairs that remained. What a putrid odor filled the room as they de-haired the fowl! Mom was told years later that burning off the hairs was the most disgusting job they ever had to do in their young lives and that they would never forget that nasty smell. Finally, the prepared whole carcass was put into an old bread sack and taken to the freezer.
All went well until it was the infamous rooster’s turn. He was the only fowl that had not yet been caught. His zigzag running style had made it difficult to get the hook around his leg. And smart he was. He would stop and go, zig and zag. We were all sure he had spent extra hours training in his elusive, evasive running style. Since the chicken hook was ineffective at catching the tricky capon, daddy decided to get out the .22 rifle and try his hand at that. Daddy did not want to shoot the rooster in the body and damage the potentially tasty chicken meat. However, it was nearly impossible to draw a bead on the rooster’s head. With every step the head would go forward, then back, forward, then back, never staying still. Additionally, the rooster’s running style of going this way and that made a double moving target. After several frustrating minutes and several missed shots, this idea was abandoned in favor of diving under the lilac bushes and snatching the rooster’s leg as he stood on the other side. His fate was now sealed.
But oh, the trouble that old geezer of a rooster gave us. Not that dad couldn’t wring its’ neck. That part was easy. But daddy had neglected to tell us all to watch out for jumping dead chickens. We were not prepared for what happened after the rooster’s neck was wrung. The thing was, that old rooster even it its dying minutes had revenge on his detached mind.
We watched as daddy quickly swung the rooster around twice and popped its head off. The now headless rooster hit the ground running and jumped directly toward young Doug. Doug watched dumfounded, trying to dodge the zigzagging of the jumping fowl. He went left, the rooster went left. When he went right, the rooster went right, all the time splattering blood out the top of its neck. Left, then right again. Finally, with a final leap, that rooster landed right on Doug’s shoulder, painting the boy with splashes of blood. Stunned and falling to the ground, the six-year old was avenged by the doomed rooster. Mom had to grab the beheaded cock from on top of Doug in order to save the frightened, crying youth. It was much more difficult then to complete the butchering process as all of those helping were laughing so hard while at the same time trying to console and reassure the boy.
Finally rid of the chickens and roosters, we were celebrating; well, sort of. After all that work, even these hens must have been old as the hills and twice as dusty. They tasted ok if you liked the feel of shoe leather in your mouth. They were not the kind of main dish you would take out of your freezer and serve to company. But, at least the grain bill was somewhat alleviated, we would just have to do without eggs, as few as they had become. The chickens became hash, which hardly anyone would eat anyway, so the only good thing that came out of the butchering incident was the fact that we did not have to feed them any more and the children were no longer afraid to go outside and play.
It wasn’t long after the butchering episode that Old Mr. Kirchen once again showed up in the neighborhood. In passing, daddy happened to see him and went over to visit. “How are the hens and roosters doing?” Old Mr. Kirchen would say. “How are Rita, Nancy, Penelope, Geordie and Marvin doing?……” Gulping down this surprising discovery that all the hens and the roosters were Mr. Kirchen’s pets and all had names, Daddy had to confess the fate of the fowl to their resting place in the freezer. Old Mr. Kirchen was quite upset and didn’t talk to daddy for a real long time.