Monday, November 22, 2010

It's a Wonder I Eat Chicken At All......

Subtitle: Another of the MANY reasons he's an ex.

I don't know about anyone else out there, but I could eat chicken three meals a day. And I'm sure I have. Chicken biscuit for breakfast (but not in England and I think Australia [?], because a chicken COOKIE would be horrible and disgusting), chicken fingers or chicken salad for lunch, then chicken stew for dinner.

It's amazing that I eat chicken at all, considering that in a previous WIFETIME I lived in an old, drafty, rodent-infested farm house on the same property with three chicken houses. My ex's "job" at the time was helping his father raise chickens, which pretty much ensured that he got a small income every time the chickens were picked up AND he had plenty of time to spend in bars in the afternoons.

If you've ever driven past chicken houses and thought, "OMG, that is the WORST thing I have EVER smelled," then you can only imagine what it was like living just a hundred yards from one of those things. My ex said it was the smell of money. One of his more endearing phrases. There are lots more where that one came from.

I felt obligated to help out in the chicken houses sometimes because A) my father-in-law was old and couldn't do it on his own; B) we DID live in his house, after all; and C) the disgustingly stinky chickens did help pay the bills and put food on the table. After beer and cigarettes were purchased, you understand.


Raising chickens is no fun at any time of the year, but in the summer in Georgia it is particularly challenging. Our chicken houses weren't climate-controlled, which meant we had to depend upon huge fans to keep the air circulating. Air conditioning them wasn't an option because it wasn't cost-effective. Chickens, unfortunately, are too stupid to keep from huddling up when the temperature is 100 degrees in the chicken house, and so they smother themselves.

One of the jobs in raising chickens entailed going around early in the morning and picking up the dead chickens. Joy, joy. It also involved killing any chickens that were sick, injured, or obviously not thriving, because you didn't want them to continue eating any of the chicken feed and further damaging your profit margin. Personally, I couldn't ever bring myself to wring the neck of a chicken, no matter how sick it was or how merciful the act might have been. I just couldn't do it. I would shoo the sick ones over into a corner and try to get the healthy ones to hide it, but they wouldn't cooperate.

During heat waves we could lose a huge number of chickens. I remember one dreadfully hot and dry stretch when it didn't seem we would have any chickens left to sell. It wouldn't have been so bad if the heat wave had occurred when they were chicks. It takes a while for chickens to get as stupid as they are, so the babies would have survived. We also had to count the number of dead chickens, and one day alone we piled up 1999 chickens. That was the only time I came close to killing a chicken. I was going to kill a HEALTHY one just to make it a nice, round number.

Picking up dead chickens in the heat and dust and stench was bad enough, but there was something that was actually a little bit worse. Occasionally there might be a dead chicken that had been overlooked the day before. Or perhaps it died right after we went through and collected the other dead. Either way, it might have lain there in the heat for 24 hours or more before it got picked up. On those occasions, it was possible that instead of a whole chicken, you might have just a chicken leg in your hand. I can't tell you the number of times I walked through the chicken house gagging.


One thing that could lead to disaster was if anything happened to the chickens' water supply. If there were fresh water and the stupid birds REMEMBERED to drink it, that could offset some of the problems created by heat and drought. Oh yeah, and you had to walk through the chicken house periodically and stir the birds up, because they would just huddle up in a corner and SMOTHER EACH OTHER in the heat rather than be bothered to go get a drink of water.

We had problems with the well that supplied the chicken houses one time during a heat wave/drought, and SH ex (that's "S" for a four-letter word meaning excrement, plus the word "head") was playing golf. This was before cell phones existed, so when I realized the pump had stopped working, I snatched Sweet Girl up from her playing and drove to the golf course. I was in too big a hurry to dress her properly; she was barefoot and wearing only a t-shirt and her panties. How embarrassing for a 12-year-old. Just kidding, she was about 4. We had to walk all over the golf course until we found SH.

I don't know what I expected. Yes, I do. I expected first of all for him to be grateful that I had come and alerted him to a potential disastrous situation. I expected him to run, not walk, back to the parking lot and get in his truck. I expected him to rush home and fix the problem. What I did NOT expect was for him to instruct ME on how to prime the pump (which was a considerable distance from the house, down in a pasture, by the way) and tell me to hurry before the chickens died, and then carry on with his golf game.

SH is way too nice a term for him.

The stench from the chicken houses wasn't the only bad thing. The poultry company came and picked up the grown chickens when they were about eight weeks old, and they always came at night when it was coolest so the stress wasn't as bad on the chickens. You certainly don't want to stress your chickens out right before you slaughter them. The chicken catchers (that's what they were really called, and I think their jobs rank right below sanitation workers and septic tank cleaners) would put the grown chickens into crates, and then the crates were stacked and loaded onto an 18-wheeler by forklift.

You know how a forklift sounds? You know.... rev up, idle down ... rev up, idle down ... rev up, idle down. It's not a droning noise, it's constantly changing. I've lived next to a railroad track, I've lived in the city where sirens could be heard any time of the night, and I've lived in the country where whippoorwills and owls were the only night sounds. That last part may or may not be a huge exaggeration, but I was looking for three things. I got used to all of those, including the train. I could not EVER get used to the sounds of the forklifts. It took about four or five hours for them to empty the three chicken houses, and it was ALWAYS on a school night.

The only time raising chickens was not the most disgusting thing in the universe was when they were first delivered as babies. Sweet Girl used to run around trying to pick up every single one. And you have to admit that a baby chick is a sweet creature. When the chicks were first delivered, we had to scoop chicken feed into pans because they were too little to reach the automatic feeders. Once SH was carelessly pouring out scoops of chicken feed, and he dumped an entire scoop (a huge scoop, not like the one you use for coffee or detergent) right on top of a baby chick. I was aghast that he might smother the baby chick until he said, "Dumping that feed on top of that chicken is just like it would be to dump a truck load of chocolate on you." I've never been able to get that image out of my head.

Oddly enough, I always forget to include "chicken farmer" on my resume.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

What an entertaining post!! My husband grew chickens for several years before he married me. (aren't I lucky it was before!?) Seems like he told me he had hogs to help dispose of his dead birds.

I've always said I'd rather smell skunk than chicken litter! It sure can make a pasture grow, though!