Daddy was a nut about poultry. He made regular patrols locally, and if he detected poultry, not in his collection, he couldn’t rest until he had one-upped whoever had put him in a “fowl mood. His enthusiasm didn’t last long enough to build a proper poultry yard, so the coyotes inevitably got whichever of the unfortunate creatures not roosting in the hen-house or trees. He enthusiastically scouted out additions to his flock who served no function but grain-eating, making a lot of racket, and a free-range pooping. Periodically, he would bring in a flock of guineas, boasting that they were excellent at letting him know if intruders were on the place. Guinea fowl are typically smaller than chickens, eat just as much and lay small, thick-shelled speckled strong-tasting eggs. Their meat has a strong, somewhat unpleasant taste. In addition to all this, at the first notice of a slight disturbance, they panic and go shrieking “pot-rack, pot-rack”, flying madly in all directions. A slight disturbance is likely nothing more than a feather falling off a guinea hen standing nearby. Having bragged about what excellent “watch dogs” they were, he’d tolerate the incessant racket and disturbance of the guineas better than the rest of us did. I never felt bad when the coyotes snatched the last of the guineas.
Geese made an occasional appearance, remarkable for their noisy honking, arrogance, biting, and lifelong diarrhea. Since we never ate nor plucked a goose, ours served absolutely no other purpose, other than giving up plenty of practice in guarding our backsides against their bites and teaching us the value of wiping our shoes. Cool kids don’t show up at school with goose sh__ on their shoes. The coyotes liked geese, too.
Chickens were a given. They roosted in the chicken house at night to keep them safe from varmints, but they had the run of the place during the day. They were pleasant to look at as they bobbed around the place, but weren’t interested in toilet training. Most importantly, hens lay an egg a day a few months of the year. They had a nice nesting box built high off the ground. The prim and proper among them hopped up the little ladder, strolled along till they found their favorite nest, and deposited an egg. Afterward, they cackled out news of their accomplishment and hopped back down the ladder one hop at a time. The renegades and slow learners stole away to hide a nest in the bushes. Gathering eggs was a job for women and small children. Mother listened for these naughty girls and sent us scurrying to find their eggs. It was very important not to take the “nest egg” or the hen would abandon the nest and steal away to hide her nest. Hens weren’t too fussy about the nest egg being genuine and were perfectly satisfied with glass nest eggs, or an old white door knob, just so the handle pointed down.
We gathered eggs just before dark. Should eggs be left in the nest after dark, chicken snakes were likely to steal them. More than once I have reached in gather eggs and grabbed a scaly black snake instead of a warm fresh egg. Once I was gratified to find a snake skeleton complete with a crushed glass egg resting inside.
In the spring, Mother would “set” her hens when she noticed hens acting “broody” or fussing around and feathering a nest. Instead of gathering the broody hen’s eggs, she’d add a few eggs to the pile. The hens never seemed bothered to see the increase. They’d sit on the nest for about three weeks till the biddies hatched out. She’d parade around proudly with her babies, fiercely protective. Many a child, dog, or cat has lived to regret interfering with a mother hen’s babies. They’d fly on an aggressor in a fury, flogging, spurring, and beating. I learned early and well to respect Mother Hen.
My grandma loved her chickens and had personal relationships with them, naming each. Her hens jumped on her shoulders when she went in the chicken yard. She was not above pointing out to Mabel that Helen had laid a double-yoked egg, nor mentioning to them that if egg production didn’t pick up, a lazy chicken might get invited to Sunday dinner. Grandma’s feelings for her hens got more personal as she got older, and she started retiring her hens instead of inviting them to Sunday dinner. Grandpa raised peas to feed the chickens. When he went into the chicken yard to toss them their peas, they fogged up to sit on his shoulders and on the top of his head.
Dogs loved eggs, too. Should a dog be foolish enough to take up “egg-sucking” or “chicken-killing” his days on the farm were numbered. When my grandpa’s dog got in and killed one of her precious layers, she tied the dead hen around his neck and made him wear it for several days, ridding him of his interest in chickens forever.
Once we had a Tom turkey, one of the most detestable creatures living. He’d been given to Daddy by a deranged backwoodser who found him too evil for his tastes. Naturally, Daddy grabbed him up and brought him straight home to us, leaving him to the care of his darling bride and tender children along with the rest of the rest of the barnyard creatures. Daddy enjoyed procuring creatures, not caring for them. That’s what his family was for. In theory, we only had to tolerate the turkey until Thanksgiving day, when Tom would be the centerpiece of our holiday table. All we had to do was somehow survive until then. At his previous home, he’d had a harem of turkey hens, till he got so mean he had to go. For a few days after his arrival, that devil had the run of our barnyard, terrorizing the other fowl. Deprived of their gentling company, his testosterone exploded. They escaped into the tree branches, under the barn, into stalls, as soon as they’d hear him strutting and making his aggressive, scratchy mating sound, “Aruh! Aruh! Aruh!” Turkeys don’t always say “Gobble, gobble, Gobble! Denied the company of poultry, he was not picky about partners, jumping on anything that didn’t get out of his way. He was no respecter of species and attempted to molest pigs. goats, and even horses. I was so glad when Daddy put a stop to his antics. That was one year we gave heartfelt thanks a few weeks early.