Thursday, April 21, 2005

#34 - Found Another One!

Thank goodness for Dave Barry's blog. Apparently there's a whole slough of International Days of which I've never been aware. Dave points us to another one.

International Respect for Chickens Day

It appears to be sponsored by an organization calling itself "United Poultry Concerns." This bothers me somewhat. In my experience, your average fowl has but one concern, which is how to stay one step ahead of the axe. Here's the money quote, though:

Chickens are cheerful, intelligent birds. The mother hen tenderly cares for her chicks, and roosters protect their families and flocks.

Huh. I must admit, my own experience with chickens has been anything but deserving of respect. In fact - and here I must apologize to family members who thought they'd safely put this experience behind them - we used to raise chickens.

My Dad was the world's greatest armchair hobbiest. He would find something to obsess over, read everything he could find on the subject, ask as many people at work as would talk to him about it, then rally the troops to implement the scheme. We tried livestock twice. Once with rabbits, and again with chickens. In each case, the objective was a noble one: we would raise the livestock as a means of supplementing our food stores. Rabbit, when cooked correctly, is actually rather delectable (tastes like watered-down chicken, of course). The chickens would be layers, then eaten when they could no longer provide our daily cholesterol pellets.

The problem, of course, was in (literally) the execution. When the time came to actually need to off the animals, Dad always developed cold feet. He had been raised on a farm as a boy, and I guess he figured it would be a simple matter to just go out, club the bunnies, skin 'em and fry 'em. He would spend days preparing us mentally for this traumatic experience. Then, when he thought the time was right, we would have this conversation around the dinner table:

Dad: So, I was thinking that we need to get those rabbits killed so we can try some rabbit stew for dinner. Greg (shooting a bemused glance in my direction), think you can handle that?

Me: Beg pardon?

Dad: All you need is a good baseball bat. You have one, don't you?

Me: Baseball bat?

Dad: (wondering how this genius could ever have sprung from his loins) Yes, son. A bat. You do have one, right?

Me: Um, yeah...

Dad: So, just take the rabbits out one by one, club them with the bat, then chop off their heads with my hatchet. Might want to wear old clothes since there's likely to be some spatter.

Me: Ummmm...

Ultimately, of course, we sold the rabbits.

When Dad announced that we were going to get fresh eggs every morning, we all - simultaneously - gave him the same reaction:

"You're kidding."

He assured us he was not, and set us to work preparing to become chicken ranchers. To this day, I have no idea whether we were really even zoned for keeping poultry in our backyard, but others had done so, and I'm pretty sure that was the extent of Dad's research. We built a coop under one portion of the house where an upper bedroom overhung the garage by a few feet. We fenced it in with chicken wire, built some nesting platforms, and waited for Dad to procure the pullets.

Naturally, no sooner did we have the chickens safely ensconced in their new home than we realized this was going to be another disaster in animal husbandry. We had five hens. At least, we assumed they were hens because one or two of them actually did lay an egg or two apiece. And that was it.

I don't remember exactly how long we had those blasted birds. I do, however, remember spending copious amounts of time fighting with my siblings over whose turn it was to muck out the coop. As far as I could tell, that was the entire breadth of their output. We put food in, they pushed muck out. No eggs, just chicken scat. We also spent more than our fair share of time chasing the stupid birds all over the neighborhood. They seemed to be masters of escape, and if they made it over the back fence, we had an uptight neighbor to deal with.

Finally, Dad realized the experiment was doomed to fail, and made plans to rid us of the chickens. Former Idaho farm boy that he was, his first instinct was to eat them. "No problem," he announced. "You just wring their necks, pluck their feathers, and broil 'em." So, naturally, when the time came, we had another conversation. I was readier this time:

Dad: Well, son, we need to...

Me: Forget it, Dad.

Dad: (feigning surprise) What do you mean, "forget it?"

Me: Exactly that. If you think I'm going to pick up one of those feathered menaces, wring it's neck, chop off it's head, and pluck it, you're out of your mind.

We briefly considered having one of the neighbor boys do it. They were an interesting set of teenage brothers that lived across the street and Dad figured should have landed in jail before now. Surely they would be interested in a little creative neck-wringing? But when even they turned us down, Dad knew he was licked. In what seemed to me to be the opening of a really bad made-for-TV movie, we found ourselves one day driving our old Volkswagen bus out to a nearby chicken ranch - a real one - and releasing them just outside the fence.

That was, fortunately for us, the end of Dad's attempts at animal husbandry. Oh, we kept birds for awhile in the old chicken coop. Parakeets, mostly, as I recall, but they all died or flew away, and the coop slowly disintegrated over time. But our careers as animal ranchers of any kind died when the chickens were deported. My experiences with the chickens enhanced my later experience with domesticated turkeys in Guatemala, but that's a story for another day.

The web site for International Respect for Chickens Day encourages us to "show the world that chickens are people, too!"

Right. I'll go pop one in the crock pot right now.

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