One of Bob’s best friends wears feathers

One of Bob's best friends wears feathers By Bob Karolevitz It's not hard to make friends in the chicken coop.

When their water dispenser is empty and I show up to fill it, the thirsty old hens cluster about my feet, waiting for a drink with a cacophony of cackles.

And when I dole out corn and oats in their feed trough, our geriatric flock assembles around me like kids at a candy counter.

Their gratitude is expressed in a chorus of clucks, and in a small way I feel good about what I have just done.

I've got to admit, though, that I've never been a real chicken fancier (other than fried or fricasseed), but there is one elderly layer in our motley collection who seems to have taken a special shine to me.

Every time I go out in the yard, she rushes over to the edge of the fenced pen and clucks a friendly greeting. I've spoiled her, I know, because I've gone to the garden and dug up a few worms just for her.

It's nice to be wanted!

Actually I don't know why we've got chickens, unless it's because when we bought the farm, a coop came with it. It's really an assisted living home for them. They're never butchered, and eventually they die of old age.

As I have written in the past, I then become the kindly undertaker for the departed birds, although we don't have hymns or graveside services.

Oh, we get a few eggs periodically, but I figured the cost the other day, and it's something like $17.67 a dozen, not counting our time. Needless to say, we're not in the business for the money.

Unfortunately we can't give our chickens free run of the farm. Our dog wants to retrieve them all. We've also had our share of coyote and raccoon forays, so each night we have to make sure the coop door to the pen is closed and all is secure in biddy beddy-bye.

Normally it's not so bad, but when we come home late from a party or concert, one of us has to take the flashlight and — in South Dakota farm talk — go "shut for the chickens." In the process we have learned one truism: Never go to the coop in your good shoes!

I suppose we should face reality and dispose of our hennery, but that's easier said than done. The birds are even too old for soup. And if you think other farm prices are bad, you should try to sell a cage-full of arthritic chickens.

There's nothing else to do, I guess, except to wait for Mother Nature to take her toll. In the meantime, I think I'll organize a local chapter of A.A.R.P. (Association of Aging and Retired Pullets). I'll probably have to help some of the members up to the roost so they can hold their meetings — but I'm kidding, of course.

Sad to say, if we did get rid of them, I'm afraid my special feathered friend would have to go, too. And I'd have no one to dig worms for.

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