As usual, things have been incredibly busy around here. I was talking to a fellow rancher from the west side of the county today at the Farmers Union C-store. It was self-proclaimed f'real Friday http://www.freal.com. We both have 5 year olds and the coincidental timing of this weekly event provided us opportunity to basically complain about all of the prosperity that this amazing rainfall total of 2013 brought to a typically dry landscape. There is just too much fall's work to do. Too much hay to haul home. Too much corn to ensile. Too much winter wheat to plant. Too many commodity contracts to deliver on. Too many things to get done before winter sets in.
This end to the growing season of 2013 brought me to the realization that the final chapter in our little chicken saga is soon to play out.
(six months earlier...)
In March I get a phone call from my sister who instructs agriculture classes at Williston State College. "Vawnita, I was wondering if Kyle wants chickens this summer", she says. I instantly have childhood flash backs of picking eggs out from under angry pecking hens, being chased by 'the rooster' and pitching 'fertilizer' each spring from the hen house by hand. Oh yah, and then there was the unpleasant chore that we were forced to participate in which was by far the worst part of having poultry on the ranch when we were growing up. Harvesting (butchering) them.
My gut response was to firmly say "No. Absolutely not. I like my Cashwise Grocery Store eggs just fine. Thanks for asking but no thank you."
|Kyle and my sister Kim the day his chickens arrived.|
|Kyle with his six 'laying hens'.|
Now, due to the early date of this beginning of April event on campus, these sweet, fluffy, adorable little baby chicks spent the first 8 weeks of their life on the ranch in a stock tank retrofitted into a brooder box in our attached (to the house), heated garage. Yes, you heard me. We had chickens in our garage. One wall away from my kitchen to be exact.
I love my child and I do firmly believe that having meaningful chores for children are important. In addition to having the daily chores of checking their feed and water, there were two other life lessons that I anticipated. One, good animal and resource stewardship and two, how fulfilling it is to grow your own food and to share it with others.
What I didn't anticipate was that there would be numerous other life lessons as this saga unfolded. Now, hold on to your over boots and keep up because there are a lot of side bars popping up in this story of Kyle's chicken herd.
One early May morning I was loading the dish washer. The house was quiet when all of a sudden erupting from the garage, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!". Remember, NO BOYS. That was the deal. This was bad. My hope was that there was one rooster. My fear was that there were three roosters. This fear was founded from watching them interact in their brooder box - the fact that the three black and white ones picked on each other, had big combs and were incredibly flighty.
We rode and sorted pairs that day and our friends, Hayes and Lonny Feilmeier came out to help. After we were done, we all came in to the house to eat. I was going off about this 'rooster' thing that was weighing on my mind. Lonny, who claimed to be a poultry expert went out to the garage to investigate. When he came back in he informed me that we did indeed have three roosters. Which also meant we only had three hens. Both issues = BAD.
As the chicks got bigger and the weather got warmer... and they had definitely out grown their little brooder box (we had a couple escapes before we finally got them moved outside), the construction of the hen pen was on simultaneously as we were getting the barn ready for our annual customer appreciation supper and private treaty bull display (another post for another day).
|He couldn't take anymore hen pen building / barn time. Kyle self napping with his private treaty bull catalog on the barn floor as Pete and Brad worked on the hen pen.|
The four lessons that weren't foreseen when agreeing to take the Ag Club's chicks after their kiddy day at the college, but that were very valuable for our four year old son were these: First, there are two things guaranteed to all creatures. Every creature on earth enters this world and every creature leaves this world. How, when, where, why... most of these events are out of the control of the being. It is simply part of life or more accurately, it is simply part of the circle of life. Secondly, make lemonade with your lemons but don't just make your average run of the mill lemonade. Make really good, memorable lemonade with fresh, locally grown ingredients when they are available. Share your lemonade with all who are thirsty and don't waste it. Third, always remember happiness is in the journey and don't be so wrapped up in a picture perfect, Pollyanna like journey that you can't laugh at yourself. Life is funny stuff and if there isn't anything there to laugh at, I pity your journey and the poor people that signed on with you. Fourth, if beauty and function aren't a package deal and you have to choose one, function will serve you much better in life.
Those unintended lessons may have turned out to be more valuable to our four, soon to be five year old son than the 'lesson plan' was... which is likely another lesson. One for me.
We had the chickens moved out to their hen pen, had them acclimated to that and now were allowing them to 'free range' around the yard. Have I mentioned that the chickens were all named? By Kyle with help from his cousin Jaden. There are Chabella, Big Red Hen and the third one was Salt N Pepper. According to Kyle, Salt N Pepper was his favorite. Unfortunately, she was the favorite of the neighbor dog too. It all happened in front of him and it was a very sad day for both Kyle and the dog. The chicken didn't suffer very long before I relieved her of her injuries. I remember my first 'circle of life' lesson as a young child. It was a twin bottle calf who I fed often and named Barnaby (after Barnaby Jones). Barnaby was a boy and went on to fill our freezer and sustained and nourish our family and guests to our home. After having been through them both first hand, Salt N Pepper was easier than Barnaby, but I won't try to tell Kyle that. Also, it was an important lesson, but I won't try to tell him that either. He will realize that on his own someday.
On a lighter note, the journey as it played out that day through Kyle's eyes was later revealed to me by our neighbor who was there at the time building some shelves in our basement. Kyle was sent to the basement by his father after it was realized that he was watching his mother beat the neighbor dog with a dead chicken out the dining room window. Kyle says to neighbor Jerry who is working away on library shelves and unaware of the events outside, "Oh man Jerry. My mom is really mad. She is violating Abby (the dog) with Salt N Pepper". Out of the mouths of babes. And no, I don't know where he learned that word and no, I don't think he knows what it means.
There was an expansion to the little chicken herd. Brad's friend from back home had a couple fancy show chickens that she was willing to send with Brad's mom and grandparents when they came to visit this summer. This pair had just been crowned Grand Champion laying hen pair at the county fair. Truly, when they arrived at the ranch I thought to myself "these are the most stunningly beautiful chickens I have ever seen before". Kyle wanted to name them Pretty Dash #1 and Pretty Dash #2... they were and still are a little flighty. I had to shut him down on that one. Instead we did a google search of 'Victoria Secret models'. Along with Chabella and the Big Red Hen, Kyle now has Gisele and Jasmine.
(present day - October 4th)
The three 'stewies' (AKA - The Three Stooges, AKA - The Three Roosters) had a stay of execution this summer when we had an outbreak of grasshoppers around the yard and the hens needed help keeping those destructive critters out of the yard and the garden. Although they are 'Kyle' chasers (he won't go outside to pick eggs without his handy catch rope (lariat) to defend himself) and incredibly noisy all day and much of the night, they were good vector control this summer and certainly earned their right to stick around through the first killing frost of the season (which is tonight). Their scheduled time to leave this place and fulfill their destiny is next weekend. They will go on to feed us and our guests and we will look back at our time with the three 'stewies' and laugh. They made us laugh; sometimes with annoyance. OK, mostly with annoyance. None the less, when they leave, it will be swift and instantaneous. They will have the death that I hope for for myself and my loved ones regardless of the number of legs they have. It will be painless. It will be necessary. It will not be a time to laugh, but it will be a good ending to three lives that were lived well and with purpose... NOW, here is a tribute to those damn 'stewies' and the struggle we faced this summer keeping them out of the 60 feet by 100 feet of the ranch that were suppose to be off limits to them!