Chicken harvesting not for meek

In early spring you get baby chicks at the feed store in town. My mom always ordered them in bunches of 25. I don’t know if that was just a good number she dreamed up or what, but there were always 25 in each batch.

Usually, she’d have several mother hens who had a few baby chicks of their own and we’d sneak the new ones under their wings.

My job was to keep the little feed and water deals full and generally keep an eye on them before and after school and on weekends. One year my mom had a gazillion baby chicks, and one weekend they all decided to die. My brother and I fixed up the first three in little coffins made out of matchboxes, dug fancy little graves and made crosses out of twigs. We weren’t sure if they had a chance at heaven, but we said the Lord’s prayer over their graves anyway.

Those first three were only the beginning. By sundown we had dead baby chick bodies all over the place. There were no more match boxes and we ran out of good twigs, so we ended up burying them in unmarked graves behind the barn and just saying one prayer for the whole bunch.

Chickens are cute when they’re little, but when they get “fryer size” the yucky part begins. My mom and grandmother had a running dispute over which “harvest” method was best — wringing their necks or chopping off heads with an axe. My grandmother was an expert neck wringer, but my mom preferred the axe. She had me hold the body while she stretched the head over a log and expertly chopped it off.

Next, the chickens were dunked in boiling water and handed to us for plucking. To this day, I can’t adequately explain the smell of wet chicken feathers. It makes your nose plug itself up so you have to breathe through your mouth.

My mom cleaned them, saved the livers, gizzards, hearts, etc., and cut them in the familiar pieces. Then she made fried chicken for dinner — that day — an hour or so after we finished the plucking.

I never liked fried chicken. I did not give a dang if the “children in China” were hungry.

One summer my brother and I were “chicken herders.” We had moved to a place on the edge of town and a lady down the road objected to our “free range” chickens roosting in her yard.

So every evening about sundown our job was to herd them into the barn. Every day was a new world to those stupid chickens. They never did learn how to find the barn. We did get in a little roping practice, though, except we learned if you catch one around the neck, don’t take up your slack. They sorta die. Heeling them works pretty good, except sometimes you get wings along with the legs. But you get those great squawking sound effects you never get from a steer.