Growing up with the chickens
For the first 20 years of my life few were the mornings I didn’t wake to the crowing of a rooster. No, I didn’t grow up on a farm but my father more than made up for that. His hobby was raising game chickens and he was a very dedicated hobbyist.
The first home I remember was a block south of Main Street in Slater where Dad kept his chickens on both floors of a small barn just behind the house. (One could legally raise chickens in town back then.)
His choice of chickens meant plenty of “due diligence” on his part. Dad was forced to keep each rooster in a separate pen as a rooster would not tolerate another rooster. If two happened to meet face-to-face the feathers would fly.
He also had several separate “runs” (wire enclosures on the side of the barn where his favorite birds could enjoy the outside air.)
It was from those runs that I first remember dad’s roosters vocalizing each morning. My bedroom was at the rear of the house, not far from the barn. I guess I learned to live with the racket but some of the neighbors weren’t so inclined.
About the time I entered high school, we moved a few blocks south to an acreage at the south edge of town. I can’t remember our old neighbors throwing a going away party for us but I’m sure they did. (A week or so after we left.)
Our new digs was just what Dad had always dreamed of. The construction of a large chicken facility along with the conversion of several existing buildings enabled him to reclaim all the chickens he had boarded out at various farms across the countryside.
Dad’s chicken empire grew by leaps and bounds. Much of his time away from the newspaper office was spent feeding and caring for his chickens. He carried a little book to keep notes on each and every bird.
He “chored” his chickens every morning and evening. Each rooster had his own cage and, depending on his standing, a hen or two or three.
Tunafish cans were Dad’s favorite food receptacles. When Mom opened a can she would leave enough of the lid attached so it could be bent and folded over the cage’s door. Dad would carefully remove and fill the cans twice a day with water and food. Each time, before he refilled the can, he would wash it out to prevent any contamination. As I mentioned earlier he was a very dedicated chicken enthusiast.
Dad’s goal was to raise the best chickens he could possibly produce. Thus his little book proved invaluable. He would catalog eggs laid by his “special” hens later writing on these eggs information he felt was necessary to engineering the perfect “super” rooster.
He carefully observed the chicks as they slowly developed into adults. Page after page of statistics were kept. I seriously doubt if anyone else would have the slightest idea what the numbers meant.
Dad’s love of chickens never waned. It was a fixation that stayed with him his entire life. After retirement he and Mom sold their two-story house and built a ranch home on another part of their property. Of course, that meant new chicken facilities as well.
Although the move meant fewer birds, it didn’t quench his enthusiasm to raise super chickens. He continued that quest until he was well into his seventies. Abruptly, one day, he announced he had decided to “get out of the chicken business.”
He didn’t need to advertise the sale. Word of mouth was all it took. Before long, chicken fanciers from across the country were contacting him for the opportunity to see his birds.
His best rooster fetched a price well over a thousand dollars. The purchaser came from out of state. After he left Dad confided in me, “He got a great bird but he made a big mistake. He should have bought the two hens, too. The hens are as important as the rooster.”
I can’t help but think of Dad every time I hear a rooster crow. I remember well the battered old white porcelain tea kettle he carried water in on his seemingly endless excursions from pen to pen. I can still hear his pen-side chatter as he visited with each of the pens’ occupants.
Yes, Dad’s hobby was raising chickens. It was also his passion. I guess that is the true sign of dedication ... making your hobby your passion.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.