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Talking it Over: Chicken coops

Katie Erdman

Some of you may not even know what a chicken coop is for, but those who grew up on a farm, it was an all too familiar and usually very unpleasant part of the farm yard.

We had a relatively large chicken coop on my parents farm yard. On two walls there were rows and rows of boxes, open to the front, where the hens would nest and lay their eggs. Behind the coop was a large fenced in area where the chickens could go out through a small door in the wall. The birds would scratch around in the dirt, eat their feed and fight between each other.

Each day it was the chore of one of the kids to gather the eggs. I did not care much for this chore because I usually returned a little bit beat up.

Upon entering the chicken coop, all the chickens would start squawking and flying around. That is, except for some of the hens who stubbornly stayed on their eggs, probably hoping to incubate them into baby chicks. Unfortunately, the eggs had to be gathered even if the hen refused to move. This meant reaching underneath the not too happy lady and pulling out the eggs.

Some of the hens would leave the nest when attempting to reach inside but others loaded up their defense and pecked at hands and arms that got within reach. The pecks were not critical but often left your arms bloody and full of scabs.

The back pen was another treacherous area. This became a labyrinth of holes and trenches scratched out by the chickens looking for bugs and making new holes for nests. For some reason, as young tricycle riders, we thought the chicken yard was an obstacle course and carefully guided our trikes between the holes. On several occasions, we tipped over into the holes scraping up our legs on whatever was nearby. I still have scars from some of these mishaps.

With all the memories of the chicken coop, there is one that always sticks in my mind. That was butchering day. The old hens were removed, heads cut off and thrown in the yard to flop around until dead. I didn't have much sympathy for most of the angry birds that pecked my arms but it still made me feel bad to see them die in that manner.

For many years, I disliked eating chicken. It could have been because we had it so often but, deep down, I think it was because of my experiences in and around the chicken coop. Now that I no longer have to face that terrible building every day, I can enjoy a good chicken leg or thigh. I just have to keep all those other images out of my mind and know that chickens these days are probably treated a lot better than in the past.