Chickens by Harry McCue

  I had been dreaming of having chickens all my life. Doesn’t everyone? Okay, maybe not everyone, but Ann and I were ready to raise some baby chicks. When we saw an ad in the Mother Earth News from Murray McMurray of Clinton, Iowa, we put in our order for twenty five  day old chicks, the mixed exotic breeds collection. We thought we should mention it to our landlord, Mr. Youngers. “Where were you planning on putting them?” he asked. “In the kitchen” I answered, “but fenced in with a cardboard fence, which they sell in the feed store in town, you know, Cooper, Heminway & Rowley”. “Where will you keep them when they grow up”? asked Mr. Y. “I have a set of plans I bought when I was about nine or ten.” “Have you ever built a building before”? Harry,” No, I fixed a chicken house up as a kid but my father said I couldn’t get the chickens.” Mr. Y.,” You can get them chickens and build your henhouse, but when you leave I’ll keep that henhouse, you get that?” Harry,”Yup”. Mr. Youngers,” You’ll need a 50lb. bag of bran to put on the kitchen floor for bedding. 

  I had bought plans for a chicken house at Phil Sharlach’s hardware in Bedford when I was a kid and now I was about to use it! YEE HAW! Off to the lumber yard I went with my ten year old plans to finally fulfill my 4H club dreams. The lumberyard truck pulled in to the yard with all my building supplies and I started to build my first farm structure. My hammering brought the Youngers, the Flints and anyone else that was around with a hammer over the ensuing days to help me into the poultry business. The comically cranky postmaster complete with his trifocal pince-nez glasses called a few weeks later to say we had to come and get these damn baby chicks out of his office. This guy was like a cranky old geezer guy from Central Casting. “Damn it, they keep singin’ the same tune, git ‘em outta here”. 

  The thirty chicks we bought joined us night and day in the kitchen for a few weeks, kept warm by their faux broody mother hen, an infrared bulb hung from the kitchen ceiling. Then it was time to move them to their new chicken house, complete with their heat light to keep them warm in between eating, drinking, cheeping and pooping. Eight weeks later they were pullets and cockerels, boppin’ around outside in a fenced-in run ten feet square and knowing their way back home into the new coop. We had a number of different varieties and were learning which ones were good egg layers, as well as some other characteristics, both good and bad. What does a chicken have to do to get put on the bad list? Fighting would be one bad habit, attacking guests would be another. We ordered what was called a “straight run” meaning it was cockerels and hens, hens for the eggs and cockerels for roasters. We kept one rooster we named “Gray Ghost”. He was a really great looking guy, with a light blue gray body and a good attitude. He was a Blue Andalusia. We had him for a few years, then some visitors from school came one Sunday afternoon with their dog and as we were greeting them the dog attacked Gray Ghost and wounded him so badly that I had to kill him. They were sorry but stayed for dinner. A chicken dinner. “Le fête poules a la gris fan tome”.   

  We enjoyed our chicken adventures. We thought we should expand on that and so we built a bunch of little cages for bunnies. We had one bunny buck and three females which equals, well, do the math. Three does and one buck equals…uh? A couple of dozen baby bunnies? Well, not too far off. I can tell you that a bunny buck doesn’t waste time or money on flowers, candy, or small talk. I guess the term; “Quick like a bunny” sums it up.  

  Our new friend from Warsaw, Frank Miller came to visit us from time to time and we frequently went over to visit him. He raised exotic pheasants and gave us a pair of Golden Pheasants to enjoy on the farm. I built a nice cage and house for them. They were beautiful birds but very fragile and “sitting ducks” for predators such as skunks, foxes and even snakes, rats and roaming dogs. Notice I’m not including coyotes because at this time there were no coyotes in New York State, or so people, including the DEC, thought. As time went on we would start to hear about these wild dogs people were seeing and hearing occasionally. First described as feral dogs, they were rumored to be south of Warsaw on a stretch of the Genesee river around Rossburg. A farmer, whose name I can no longer recall, raised disease free pigs on an island in the Genesee River. He claimed to have seen wolf or coyote- like canines and was losing piglets to them. They started showing up as road kills as well. Forensic examinations initially were calling them coy dogs, then brush wolves, and around 1977 they were being identified as Eastern Coyotes. 

  When we mentioned that we would like to grow a vegetable garden and asked our landlord, Mr. Youngers, if he would plow us a little patch he pulled up with his big blue Ford 750 diesel with an eight bottom plow and in about four passes we had a garden patch big enough to become Ann & Harry’s Farm Stand. Our friend Roger Demuth from Nunda was a good sign painter and proceeded to do just that. Turning ourselves loose on the seed catalogs we planted EVERYTHING. Vegetables we had never seen, eaten or even heard of were ordered from all the seed catalogs advertised in the Mother Earth News. Our favorite catalog was Shumway’s, with its old wood engraving illustrations and its broad selection of choices. In my usual iconoclastic, flippant modus operandi I ordered mangelwurzel beets, Virginia Burley tobacco (I was trying to develop a chewing tobacco habit to fit in with the boys at my feed store, (Cooper, Heminway & Rowley).The chewing tobacco idea would be pursued a bit later, with some long term regrets and agonies. These in your face activities where I deliberately see what I can get away with, testing my family, friends and business colleagues patience with my nonsensical behavior to see how far I could press the envelope have (Oh, how I wish I could say ‘had’) been a part of my personality. Now, at my mid-seventies I firmly hope I’m over that. Isn’t it about time, Harry?  

We were as green as grass at this gardening thing (and an awful lot of everything else) but we proceeded at our youthful, energetic and blindly optimistic pace. We learn by our mistakes. If this is true, we learned quite a lot because we made a lot of mistakes. We were providing riotous entertainment for our Wyoming County neighbors ….”Them hippies up on the green bay, they are green alright”!