It’s Sunday. Which, for me, means it’s chicken and french fry day. Or, more accurately, it’s chicken day, and it’s french fry day.
Chicken day means that it is my day to take care of the needs of our 2,000 bird flock of laying hens.
French fry day means that my Sunday co-laborer and I stop at Al’s French Fry for two small vanilla milkshakes and two pints of fresh-cut fries. This after work treat has been tradition since sometime in May, when the two of us started carpooling. It’s enough to want us to bring back the abandoned epithet “freedom fries”. Salt. Fat. Potatoes. Ketchup. It is what freedom tastes like. Anytime after 4:30 on Sunday.
As far as Al’s goes, we’re in. Zack, who seems to be a manager has invited us not to wait in line when we arrive. We just stroll up to the other side of the register, and he rings us right up. Whatever has transpired that day is swept up on the black and white checked floor as our muddy boots and dusty limbs shuffle in place to Runaround Sue and Earth Angel, with ketchup in hand and straws on our lips. Between Zack, Chops, Nibbles and the Inspector, we know our snacks are in good hands. They nod at us and push the red and white cups to the edge of the counter. Liberty. And not a minute too soon.
Chicken day can feel like an exercise in tyranny. First. The birds need their french fries and shakes. Regardless of how much feed is left in their feeders, whatever I have is always much more interesting. I load the back of the truck with 1500 pounds of feed. I back the truck up to a mostly water-tight grain bin. I again move the 1500 pounds of grain into the bin. I jump down from the truck and throw a bag over my shoulder.
One of them spots me. She lets out a squawk. Suddenly several hundred red hens greet me as I try to manage to bring the 50 lb. grain bag with me over the waist-high electric fence. They peck at my shoes. My legs. Anything they can reach, until I spill the contents of the bag into one of their seven wooden feeders.
Sometimes, if I startle one, it freezes in front of me, gets low to the ground and rapidly runs in place. This is surely a relic of a defense mechanism, but I can’t see how it was ever effective. Unless it meant to trip the would-be predator carrying heavy objects. We repeat this tarantella until a third of the feed is out of the bin and into the feeders. Mathematically, I’ve moved a little under two tons of feed.
I fill the water basins, which they are equally enthusiastic over, despite their constant access to a series of bell-waterers dangling from the purlins of their house.
Then comes egg collection. I suppose I would be equally offended if someone tried to steal my possessions from under my morning calm. Some of these ladies are pissed. Pecking at my gloved hands is the preferred method of defense, but it’s not uncommon to have a bird or two land on and/or scratch the head or shoulders of an unwitting egg-collector. Other obstacles with any chicken flock may include, but are not limited to: dodging and avoiding manure, mites, lice, tape worms and finding the remains of birds who have reached their terminal hour. At the end of the gauntlet, and of the day, I have collected over 1,000 eggs. A low number.
With all due respect to these birds, I’m happy to get back to the four we have at home. I imagine the folks at Al’s serve at least two thousand hungry humans a day. I can picture us all in chicken costumes, cooing in prehistoric shrills.
And French Fries.