Chapter 24 – Chicken baby

Even though the house was not that great, we were absolutely in LOVE with our new farm. How could we not be? It was a dream come true. After the ice storm, winter came early that year in 2010, and on Thanksgiving it was -10 out, with quite a windchill to boot. We hosted our families in our tiny house, we were absolutely crammed in there to the brim. We prepared loads of food- the traditional dishes and of course we featured one of our enormous and succulent turkeys. My Dad arrived late with my sisters and my cousin visiting from British Columbia, yelling about how the dogs had jumped on his car and didn’t I think to tie them up? And then he said to Andrew, now have I met you? Classic embarrassing dad. We didn’t have a big enough kitchen table for all 15 of us, so we had brought in our hog butchering table and set it up in the livingroom across sawhorses, discreetly covering it with a huge table cloth. The woodstove was roaring and we all had a magnificent time stuffing ourselves, playing games and then bundling up to go visit the new piglets, the ducks and the goats out in the cold shiny day.

My Dad, after napping post-meal on the couch, didn’t seem to want to leave, even after hours of games. He stayed way later into the dark evening that we’d expected. We had fun and laughed, it felt good to have a family holiday not focused on dwelling in the past or mourning our mom. When my Dad finally decided it was time to go at 9pm, we were exhausted and cracked some night-cap beers. My Dad however had promptly driven the four of them straight out of our driveway, right into the ditch. He came storming back into the house saying “Andrew, get out your truck and chains.” We bundled up and set down our beers. From the bottom of the ditch all of us pushed, as Andrew’s ancient non-4 wheel drive truck slipped and slid trying to pull the car out. The road was pure ice, and there are no street lights in the country, but that was not why my Dad had gone in the ditch- he just wasn’t paying attention. Somehow we finally got his little sports car out after over an hour of frozen finger tips and cussing under our breath.

The next day, we took down the turkey harvesting set-up in the hoophouse and raked up all the turkey feathers. Then it was time to move the ducks into their new home, as we watched them filing in from their snowy pasture, our hearts felt so glad. This was their new home and it had taken blood, sweat, tears and a lot of help to get it completed. On one side of the hoophouse, we had set up a spacious pen for our three little pigs. Moving the piglets over to their new winter pen was an adventure because they were robust 60 pound chunks who were very hard to hold on to. You can’t just walk a pig somewhere, so one by one we moved the piglets from their nursery pen to the big bright hoophouse. We each took two legs, holding on for dear life as they squirmed and squealed their momentary displeasure. Rosie, the first piglet we moved, proceeded to pee and then poop on Andrew as we walked her to the hoophouse. Squeak and Penny went a bit easier after we knew what we were doing.

After all was said and done, all the animals just loved the spacious and sunny hoophouse. In all my hatching experiments, I’d had one chick hatch and grow up with some of the ducklings. I hoped it, who I’d christened “Chicken Baby,” would be a hen, but of course it turned out to be a rooster, an Australorpe/Auracauna cross. He lived with the ducks and had huge black eyes, silver coloring and he really thought he was a duck. So much so, that as his puberty hit, he took a shining to one of my first ducks, the beautiful Ancona named Milky Way. He adored her and followed her around like a forelorn lover, but the cuteness of this soon became a nightmare when I found her mysteriously sporting a patch of dried blood on her head. The next morning I saw what was happening, he was pinning her in the corner and raping her, holding her head feathers with his sharp beak in order to get his mount on. Disgusted, I chased him off several times over he next few days, before I acknowledged this had to be dealt with more permanently. I had seen brutal mating behavior when I’d had too many male ducks in with the ladies, but this was a whole other cross species thing. Grossed out, I captured him and prepared for butchering. It was hard to do as he was beautiful, and I’d had hopes of him being a her. Then, when it as obvious that he was a boy, I had thought, well, he can watch out for the ladies and be the cute duck-rooster, crowing and scratching about in the duck bedding. No such luck, brought him to the roasting pot.

After a somber harvest, and cleaning him, we were excited to make roast chicken, which was going to my very first taste of chicken in 14 years. It felt fair to have made the decision to kill the raper. If he’d just been a gentleman, things would have been different for Chicken Baby. The roasting pan of chicken smelled so delicious as we took it out of the oven, and we made a luscious gravy from the drippings. I was so excited for my first taste of chicken that as I went to take a photo of the plate of gorgeous roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, my camera flopped right into the plate and was submerged in gravy. Dang it! We tucked in anyways, and we immediately learned a very important greenhorn lesson- you simply must let a carcass rest 24 hours before cooking. He was so tough! At first I thought it was him, his nature, but after a bit of research I discovered the muscles have to go through the process of rigor mortise and then the subsequent relaxing, before you attempt to cook them. We had a ruined camera and tough rooster meat.


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