Eulogy for a Chicken

Treating our baby chicks like pets and naming them seemed like a good idea. At first. They were cute and cuddly like pets, and they kept us entertained with their constant chirping and the adorable way in which they climbed over one another to get to their food. We had fun choosing names for that first flock, too: the two brunette Plymouth Barred Rocks were named for my Sicilian grandmothers, Marion and Concetta, the blonde Buff Orpingtons for Hubby’s grandmothers, Alice and Mildred, and the Rhode Island Reds for my zany red-headed great aunts, Bridget and Josephine. Neighborhood children and adults visited every day. Life was good.

The chicks grew up to be a beautiful and sociable flock. They loved to climb the stairs to our back porch and hang outside the screen door while we humans visited inside. This was back in the Spring of 2012 when the Metropolitan Government of Nashville first passed the Domesticated Hen Ordinance allowing urban residents to keep up to six chickens in their fenced-in backyards.

Chickens at the Backdoor

In the beginning of our poultry husbandry, it was all cartoonish chickens running across the grass in their funky lopsided way, and chicken idioms come to life. After about five months, eggs started appearing in the nest box, and it seemed like a happy bonus rather than the original intent. A few years later, with the addition of blue-egger Ameracaunas to the flock, the variety of eggs became downright gorgeous.

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Eventually, the Circle of Life, Survival of the Fittest, Mother Nature, whatever, showed its hungry head and there was some attrition in the happy flock.

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I didn’t grow up on a circle of life farm, so when the hawk picked off the first few chickens, it took me a while to adjust. The chickens adapted to this menace better than I; they learned to run for cover whenever they heard the hawk’s whistling call or saw his shadow overhead. They also learned to make a beeline for the bushes when I let them out in the morning to avoid being out in the open where a hawk could easily spy them. They were smart chickens.

As there was more attrition to come, at some point, I had to stop naming the replacement chickens. Instead, I referred to them by their breed. That is, until last Spring, when I brought my newly acquired Golden Comet chicken to visit Glendale Elementary School in Nashville. There, a young girl in Ms. Meadors’ kindergarten class raised her hand and asked me the chicken’s name.  I hemmed and I hawed. How could I tell this darling child I didn’t name my chickens anymore because Mother Nature could be ruthless? “Comet,” I replied with a motherly smile. The name stuck.

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Last week, Comet, the only chicken in the flock who liked to be held, died. This is a tribute to her.

One Chicken’s Life

Comet was born on a rural farm in Kentucky that raised Golden Comets, a breed known for being good layers. Once the baby chicks were hatched, they were placed in an open field in movable cages known as “chicken tractors.” The chickens fed on the grass beneath their feet until it was all consumed and then the cages, with their big supporting wheels, were rolled to another area of the field.

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Once the chickens outgrew the tractors, they were moved to a fenced-in apple orchard for grazing. The canopy of apple tree branches helped protect the flock from hawks.

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I asked the farmer, whom I knew from previous visits to the farm to buy eggs, if he would sell me two of his young layers. He did so with some reluctance — I don’t think anyone had ever asked him that question before. He sent his son to fetch two chickens. The young boy, obviously adept at this task, snuck up on the chickens and grabbed them by the ankles.

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We brought the chickens home and waited until nightfall to introduce them to the established flock. This is a time-honored technique used to decrease the likelihood of new birds being hen-pecked by older girls in their society. The idea is that the birds all wake up together and are not as startled by the presence of the newbies among them. We’ve learned from experience this method doesn’t always work, so for added insurance, we bought a “flock block” and placed it in the enclosed run with them. We hoped it would give the birds something enjoyable to peck on rather than each other.

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It worked; the older ladies left the new girls alone. We have since discovered that as long as we keep a second food source in the run, the chickens have less reason to be territorial. There is now peace in our small chicken kingdom.

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Comet’s life gets interesting.

As I mentioned earlier, last spring, I started bringing Comet to visit children in elementary school classrooms.

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Comet got to visit many schools. There is no telling how many children stroked her golden-red feathers or touched her rubbery red comb.

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Here is Comet in Ms. Benson’s kindergarten classroom where children got to feed Comet leafy greens and pea shoots with their soft leaves and curly-cue tendrils.

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The Boy Scouts came to visit her.

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And, the Girl Scouts.

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The scouts all learned How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled. You can learn how, too, in the video located in that post.  

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Comet and I were featured in a photo shoot for a nationally known online knitting magazine called Mason Dixon Knitting. I adore this photo of Comet taken by my dear friend and neighbor, Ann Shayne. Ann later gifted me with the beautiful purple and raspberry colored handknit cowl.

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A few more remembrances of Comet.

Here she is eating her leafy greens and peas.

Tilling and munching in the compost pile.

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Visiting while I planted an asparagus bed.

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Taking in the scuttlebutt at the watercooler.

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Leading the charge as the flock followed me around the yard.

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Comet was one fantastic chicken.

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In Memory of Comet:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Freshly Cooked Tortillas

Related Stories:
Family Dirt
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Farming Equipment 101: Harvesting Winter Wheat

It’s hard to explain my fascination with farming and farm equipment, but I am smitten. I’ve noticed my husband now automatically slows down when we drive by a farm with interesting agricultural activity going on: tractors crisscrossing fields, barn smokestacks billowing smoke during tobacco drying season, a team of horses pulling a cart driven by Mennonite farmers, or even something as mesmerizing as the swaying of “amber waves of grain.”  DSC_0905 He knows me well, and by slowing down he is giving me ample opportunity to ask him to pull over. Better than turning back later, a few miles down the road, Right? We are well beyond just “pulling over.” He is now, with coaxing, all about driving down these long, beckoning gravel roads. The views and the farmers we meet are the rewards.

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I am awestruck by all that I see.

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I fully appreciate that the crops from these commercial farms are feeding people across the nation and doing it in such a beautiful and orderly fashion that it transcends art and science. It is a miracle of nature, at least to a neophyte like me.

Recently, while driving down Route 68 in Cadiz, Kentucky, on our way to Hopkinsville (aka Hoptown), I spied this mash-up of amber and John Deere green.

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I had been following the growth of this field of winter wheat since the seeds were first planted back in mid-October, then through their winter dormancy period, and finally to their full maturation, the seed production stage in late spring.

The photo on the right shows the wheat seeds/grains harvested from one “ear” of wheat. The flecks in the dish are the husks that had surrounded the seeds and are known as chaff.

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Farming Equipment 101

The Combine

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The green machine is a “combine harvester,” a machine that harvests grain crops. The combine works by combining three labor intensive farm jobs: reaping, threshing, and winnowing crops. The blue machine is a grain cart that hauls the grain to a grain trailer which will then transport it to a mill either by truck or rail.

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The combine never has to stop working as there is commonly a grain cart traveling alongside it collecting the kernels as the vehicles roll across the fields. The grain is transferred via a 26-foot auger attached to the combine.  The efficiency of this system is brilliant. There is even a diesel fuel truck nearby ready to refuel the tractors, so they never have to leave the field. So, to refresh: green combine, to blue grain truck, to white grain trailer.

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These next few photos were taken from the window of the tractor cab pulling the grain cart. Paul, the tractor driver, kindly invited me to ride with him so I could see up close how the combine worked.

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Paul was ably assisted by his young grandson, Jordan, whom he was babysitting for the afternoon. Jordan was in his glory sitting beside his grandfather. Who needs Tonka trucks when you have the real thing?!

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Here is the combine reaping, or cutting down, the wheat (as seen through the window of the tractor).

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The reaper feeds the wheat into a feeder head which transports it to an internal thresher. The thresher beats the seed “ears” to separate the grains from their stems, and the chaff from the seeds. In other words, the thresher “separates the wheat from the chaff” an idiom which means to separate what is useful or valuable from what is worthless. Thank goodness for Wikipedia!

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Winnowing is the process of blowing air into the grain to blow off the chaff and other debris such as dirt before the grain enters the storage tank. As the combine moves along the field, you’ll notice a small dust storm flowing behind it. That is the chaff and stems being discarded back onto the field by the combine.

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The Planter
Another large and important farm machine is the planter. On this day, as soon as the combine finished harvesting the wheat, the planter, pulled by a tractor, came through to plant soybean seeds between the stalks and roots that remained from the harvested wheat. This is a no-till process; the farmer doesn’t remove the wheat stalks, or till them in. Leaving them in place to compost helps with weed control, soil erosion, saves on fuel costs, and helps with the bio-diversity of the land. The method of planting two crops in one field within one year is known as “double-cropping.”

This is a 16-row planter with individual seed hoppers (the yellow boxes).

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Each row planter unit uses compressed air, delivered via the black hoses, to drill the seed into the dirt. You can see the seed drill hanging between the two slanted black discs.

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There was an “aha” moment for me here: I immediately recognized the two slanted discs on the 16-row seed planter as similar to the two discs on the 2-row planter used by the farmers at Delvin Farms in College Grove, TN. I knew what they were for! You can read about how that planter works here.

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Another view of the planter: see the folded up wheels on the far right?  That’s a guide arm. When the farmer drives down a field with the guide arm unfolded, the small wheel makes a groove in the soil and lets the driver know where he needs to line up the center of his tractor when he turns to plant the next 16 rows.

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The Sprayer
There’s one more industrial-sized machine I have seen out on these commercial farms — the sprayer. The sprayer is used for fertilizing and applying pesticides.

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From the backside of the sprayer, you can see the storage tank for the chemicals.

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The bountiful grain harvest!

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Special thanks to the employees of Arnold Family Farms for their hospitality and patience with my endless questions.

Related Posts on Commercial Farming:

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.