By C.L. Beck
Several years ago, my husband, Russ, and I had an interesting experience. It was so interesting that it sticks out in my mind like it was just … well … several years ago.
“You should have been at the post office today,” I said to Russ.
“One of the boxes of mail-order chicks broke open and yellow babies were peeping and running all over the place.” I paused. “What would you think about raising poultry?”
Russ looked dubious. Who can say why? It’s not like my schemes ever backfired or anything.
“We don’t know how,” he said.
“I’ll find a chicken manual,” I replied. “If an old guy like Colonel Sanders can handle them, so can we.”
“Where would we put them?” Russ asked.
“We’d keep them on the porch in a box under a heat lamp. Then when the weather warms, we’ll put them in that old coop in the back.” I had an answer for every objection.
The next day we ordered fifty Rhode Island Reds. And became chicken farmers. Only things didn’t go quite as planned.
When the chicks came in, we brought them home and opened their box. “Gee, they sound a lot louder in here than I expected,” I said to Russ, as he put pillows over both ears to block the noise.
Then the cat showed up. The birds fled the box and scattered to the four corners of the porch. The cat thought it was great fun. I thought it was a minor setback. Russ thought it was an omen.
The chicks ate and ate and grew into …well … big chickens. There they were, 50 birds nesting and roosting in our screened porch. And squawking at the break of day. Every day.
Russ moved them to the hen house.
One morning while cleaning up after breakfast, I realized I’d fixed too much cereal. “What can we do with cold, left-over oatmeal?” I asked my son, Davey.
He replied, “Eat it for lunch.” Obviously, a three-year-old is clueless about what constitutes a good meal.
I scratched my head. “Maybe we can feed it to the chickens.”
Davey nodded in agreement. That’s what I love about toddlers—they’ll agree with anything.
I consulted my chicken manual. Everything seemed to indicate it was fine. We marched to the coop, pot and spoon in hand, and ladled the lumpy oatmeal into the feeder. The hens gathered and clucked their excitement at something new.
No sooner was I back in the house when I heard Davey yell, “Mommy, Daddy, something’s wrong with the chickens!”
Oh no. Had one of the cats gotten them?
We raced to the hen house. The birds milled about, their heads low to the ground, none of them clucking. “They must be sick,” I said to Russ, watching the poor things stagger around and fall over.
Russ looked puzzled. “They’ve got a big wad of something on their beaks.”
“A big wad of something? That’s weird.” I shook my head and tried to think of all the chicken diseases I’d read about that might fit the description.
“It looks like cooked oatmeal,” Russ said. “Where would they get that?” He turned to me with his, “What have you tried now?” look.
“It’s perfectly logical,” I said. “Oatmeal is made from oats. Oats are a grain. Chickens eat grain. It said so in my manual.”
“Yes, but not cooked and in a big, sticky lump,” Russ said.
We watched a few minutes more. The chickens kept rubbing their beaks, trying to get off the goopy cereal. The more they rubbed, the more dirt they picked up in their wads of oatmeal. Pretty soon, some of them had lumps the size of golf balls surrounding their beaks, throwing the poor birds off balance and onto the ground.
“You know what you have to do,” Russ said, opening the gate to the birds’ fenced area and ushering me inside.
“What?” I asked.
“Give 50 chickens a bath.”
Well, all I had to say was those chickens had better taste pretty good once they were on the table. I was sure the Colonel had never gone to this much trouble.