Granny and Her Chickens

Granny had a chick coop.  Behind the weathered door and rusty hinges were the greatest wonders and eight-year-old could ever behold.  Inside, the air hung heavy with two mingling scents, the acrid ammonia of chicken poop and sweet musky corn feed.  The feed was dried corn kernels chopped into tiny slivers.  I was weirdly obsessed and ran my fingers through it as we marched from the barn to the coop each morning.  Years earlier momma’s first cousin twice removed, Marvin, fell into a rock grinder while he was working in the coal mines.  I knew the rock grinder and the corn grinder were wildly different, but every time I looked at the neatly shredded corn…I thought of Cousin Marvin.

Granny’s chicken coop

Inside, the coop walls were lined with rows of matching boxes for the hens to lay in.  The patinaed wood was a silky-smooth grey outside, and a chaotic poof of straw inside.  The hens…were the bane of my existence.  The eggs beckoned to me and I watched Granny slide her hand under each feathered bottom and scoop up a perfect brown egg.  But as I approached the nesting boxes the hens…leaned.  They watched me with a practiced side-eye as they leaned slightly away from me, as if to say ‘we don’t trust you’.  My little eight-year-old psyche was fragile enough, now a flock of unruly hens were implying that I was somehow sketchy.  I wasn’t the one sporting a sharp beak with which I could peck…say a small girl…to death!

Granny and mom sitting on the front porch (c.1975)

More often than not, I left the coop with a bruised ego…and eggless.  But feeding the chickens was really my forte anyway.  Chicken feed went into anything Granny had laying around…and nothing ever went into the trash.  Empty coffee cans, old sauce pans, well-made pie tins all got a second life as a chicken feed scoop or holder.  So early mornings usually found me carrying a pan full of chicken feed trying not to trip over rocks before I’d spread feed around for the hens.

Officially, there was no ‘right way’ of feeding the chickens.  If the feed was anywhere they could get to it, and they went everywhere, they were happy.  But I had a carefully developed system based on days of careful observation.  The chickens walked bent with their heads to the ground constantly searching for anything edible.  When they found something, or thought they found something, their pace doubled which alerted the other chickens who all came running.  So instead of haphazardly tossing feed about, I laid it in a large spaced “X” pattern.

In my mind this gave an advantage to the smaller or dumber chickens who weren’t as fast or as good at finding lunch.  If a chicken sped up and started to eat and other chickens saw this and flocked (pun intended) to her, they too could graze at carefully spaced intervals…each one sufficiently far enough from the first so as to avoid irritating anyone but still close enough that as they were run off from the initial feeding spot there was no chance they wouldn’t stumble onto a spot of their own.

Darwin may have coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ as part of some trumped up evolutionary theory, but I like to think I invented the first special ed. program for chickens and invented the concept of accommodations.

 

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