Those Dumb Old Clucks

Farm Girl Feeding Chickens by Julien Dupre (1851-1910)

Farm Girl Feeding Chickens by Julien Dupre (1851-1910) (Fowls seem so innocent in this picture!)

Life on the farm was pretty good for a small boy and his brothers. Too young to really run any large machinery like the combines or big tractors, we were relegated to barnyard and farm chores. We actually enjoyed doing them and appreciated having jobs that had a beginning, an end and generated a feeling of accomplishment.

Want us to pull weeds in the garden – no problem! Rocks need picking in the back 80, let us drive the small tractor and we were on it. Cleaning manure out of the barn in the spring – not a favorite, but we understood the need.

However, ask us to collect eggs from the old clucks in the hen-house on the farm and we found places we’d rather be.

Gathering eggs from the young chickens wasn’t the problem. These were sociable hens that understood the pecking order. You could easily reach into their nest while they were on it and collect the egg(s). These birds understood the order imposed by the old rooster and played their role. On the other hand, approaching a cluck required nerves of steel, a steady hand, and a willingness to take one for the team. Those squat fowls knew as soon as you entered the coop that you were in their to take their most treasured possession.

As soon as you opened the hen-house door, those “old bitties” would start a low-pitched moan that would grow in intensity as you got closer. Those she devils would stare you in the eye with a cocked head as if daring you to “Bring it on”. As you got closer, the wings would rise a bit and their shoulders would straighten as they leaned forward in a pecking stance.

Just as you worked up the courage to grab the eggs, the wings would start flapping and a gawd awful clucking scream would be issued. A grown man would cover his eyes for protection; a young boy just turned and ran. Once you were on the run, the chicken had you. Its beak found every uncovered piece of skin on your ankle and you paid the price for your insolence in blood. We would dash for the house praying that mom was coming with her broom and her commanding yell of “Shoo you old hens!”

A soothing voice, a glass of milk and my mom at our side, we settled down and awaited the next chore my folks required.

Chicken Soup For My Soul

More years ago than I like to admit, I was raised on a small grain farm in North Dakota. It was about 500 acres of sandy loam soil that needed more water then it got and required all 6 of the children to work hard with my parents to scratch out a sharecropper’s living. If I learned anything from the experience, it was the value of good food to fuel my body for a hard day of chores.

The only things we had in abundance on that farm were vegetables from our huge garden and mean old clucking hens. As one of the younger children in the family, it was my daily job to gather the eggs from the coop. Everyday I had to confront those same old clucks who were intent on guarding the eggs in their care. With most chickens, a simple waive of the hand would send them running, but these evil creatures fought me hard with their beaks and claws.

It’s no wonder my favorite soup was chicken!

Of course I’m not talking about the soup that comes out of a red & white can! I’m talking about a soup that’s thick with chicken and vegetables and had battleship sized dumplings floating on the top. A soup that started on Monday, simmered on Tuesday, and only by Wednesday was ready for the table. It was the type of soup that didn’t need crackers and was served as a meal to give you the energy to work hard all day long.

Years later I’m finding, the values I learned on the farm are still valid today. Number one is, nobody likes an old cluck and two, that there is a huge difference between quick and easy and real homemade quality. People understand and appreciate the time and effort it takes to expertly combine high quality ingredients to make a product that satisfies.