Britt Kaufmann’s Mini-Memoir: On Raising Chickens

Look out Barbara Kingsolver, here comes Britt Kaufmann!

I am pleased to present yet another guest blogger. This time, a former student, who is publishing up a storm and making her teacher proud. Not only is Britt a poet and a playwright, but she has published her first chapbook and has had her first play produced! Here she is talking about the experience of becoming a playwright:

I’ve been following Britt’s adventures with chickens and children on Facebook this summer and told her she has the makings of a great mini-memoir in the experience. She took the challenge of turning FB entries into a memoir essay. I think you’ll agree she is a talented young writer about to flap her wings high!

The Sky is Falling

By Britt Kaufmann

Start small, I decided.  No, to the horse my daughter was begging for.  No, to the goats my husband hankered for to reduce his weed eating chores.  But a year ago I said Yes, to chickens.

There are plenty of good reasons to have chicken aside from fresh eggs and thumbing one’s nose at diabolical big agri-business.  For starters, they are great tools for teaching my elementary aged children about work ethic, responsibility, finances, and watching where you walk.  Also, in a culture that hides death, there is nothing quite like having chickens to parade it around.  Besides, I took Animal, Vegetable, Miracle very seriously—as a how-to book.  Namely, I’m interested in how to become Barbara Kingsolver.  So if raising chickens was the next step, I was in.

It is interesting that both my mother and mother-in-law were traumatized by chickens in their childhood and, to better their children’s lives, chose not to raise poultry.  Now, here we are with a small flock to better our children’s lives–I think.

In the last month, we have seen a lot of upheaval in our hen house.  One day, Mort, (our brown hen who successfully hatched seven chicks this spring) suddenly decided she was done mothering.  She no longer scratched for the chicks,cluck-clucked for them to follow her, or slept with them on the floor at night.  She was D-O-N-E, done with them.  We lost Cleopatra that day.  A few weekends later, when I was gone on a writing weekend, three other of the teenager chicks vanished.  (Everything always happens when I’m away.)

During that same period, July hatched a single white chick and abandoned her other two eggs.  By floating the eggs in a bowl of water, we determined they still had live chicks in them.  So, we cracked them open to see if we could keep them alive–but they weren’t ready.   A week later, a friend successfully hatched two eggs from her incubator.  So, we convinced July to adopt the two new chicks by tucking them under her at night when she couldn’t see enough to reject them.  By the next morning she had adopted them as her own, and the chicks would cry (pee-ope pee-ope) when she was out of their sight.

One day, in an effort to keep track of the remaining teenaged chickens—who have a tendency to wander off on their own—I told my sons I’d pay them 50 cents each to find them and give them scratch.  The next thing I knew, I heard a terrific screaming from the back yard.  Immediately, I raced for the door, meeting one son on the way.  “Mom, Grey Legs is attacking!”

When I reached the back yard, I could see my other son, red faced, screaming, with big hot tears rolling down his face. He’d taken a wooden croquet mallet to protect himself from the rooster, just in case, and was swinging it ferociously back and forth in front of himself.  (This is a kid who batted 3rd in the line-up this spring.)  I saw him connect with the rooster twice, and still the bird wouldn’t back down.  The rooster kept looking for ways to dodge inside the arc of the mallet, until my larger presence and voice ran him off.

My son had welts across his back, a hole through his shirt, and a bleeding gouge under his armpit that, even by my standards, merited a bandage.  That was it.  “Do you want us to just kill him, or do you want to eat him?”  I asked after the tears had subsided.  “Eat him,” my son replied.  The rooster went into the box that evening and was hung by his legs and butchered the next day.  It was the first time my children had seen a butchering, so I made sure to be on hand to answer questions and present a cool demeanor.  After the rooster had been good and dead for a few minutes, I ran up to the garage to get a trash-bag to dispose of the skin and feathers.  On my way, a roar erupted from the barn.  (Everything always happens when I’m gone.)

Apparently, after the death-throes, the rooster had finally stilled itself and was deemed safe to pluck feathers from.  Just as my two sons approached and reached their hands forward, he set up a wild flapping that scared the pants off of them.  By the time I returned, neither of them would get close.   So much for life-lessons without trauma.

Now we enter a new phase, a new pecking-order must be established, and we’ll see how the hens survive without a protector.  But now the kids are eager to do chicken chores again and my, how much more peaceful the mornings!

Surely this story has prompted some other memory from childhood for you, whether about chickens, roosters, other animals, or just summer adventures gone wrong. Tell us about them!

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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11 Responses to Britt Kaufmann’s Mini-Memoir: On Raising Chickens

  1. friesengroup says:

    I enjoyed the multilayered story: family, chickens, surrogates, and pecking order! I’m still smiling over the quick twists of phrase and story. I look forward to reading more.
    Best wishes, Britt!
    Kathleen

    • shirleyhs says:

      I had the same reaction, Kathleen. And, of course, I thought of my own chicken, rooster, and capon raising experiences as a child. I think chickens are innately funny creatures. And they bring out the creature-liness in humans.

  2. Britt, I loved your story! Multi-layered is the right description. I’ve joined your blog, cause it looks like a fun one.

    The above story reminds me of a rooster story that I’ll need to post on my blog sometime. Don’t they make your hair stand on end when they come after you?

    I loved your story about the play!

    Shirley, thanks so much for introducing Britt to us!

    Saloma

    • shirleyhs says:

      It is indeed a pleasure to connect the two of you. I’m sure if you ever meet, there will be lots of laugh-out-loud stories. I’ve already shared an unpublished essay on raising capons for 4-H with Britt. She’s inspired me to dust that essay off and do something with it.

  3. Britt says:

    I had fun writing this… I’m so glad y’all enjoyed it. I even had fun with the few false starts that I may have to turn into something else (namely an essay on how I can speak Chicken). Unfortunately, though the mornings are peaceful, peace does not reign in the flock. The saga with continues: We lost another teenager yesterday while I was gone trail riding with my daughter for her birthday… ALWAYS when I’m gone. ~bk

    • shirleyhs says:

      I think you have the start of another short story or short memoir called “Always When I’m Gone” here. I’m sure there are other witty memories where this one came from.

  4. Omigosh yes, everything about this is ringing bells. In a memoir of my preschool years, I wrote about learning to count by gathering eggs, and watching my father butcher chickens (I LOVED that bloody flapping!). My

    Britt, I love your humorous writing style. Your post sounds like it came from my daughter’s blog, especially the post where she tells about a kea (native cold-weather parrot) attacking her soon-to-be-six-year-old daughter at a wildlife park in New Zealand last week.

    • P.S. Britt, if you have an urge to crack more eggs in an effort to rescue chicks, stifle it. Incubate them instead. Like butterflies, chicks must emerge on their own to be strong and healthy.

      • Britt says:

        I will, Sharon! Lesson learned. It was morning when we floated them and knew they were still alive. That afternoon, I saw the one had made a hole all the way through, so thought she needed a little more help… but it was already too late. I assumed the other was on the same timing… so made the error of trying to hatch it myself. (Some hen must have laid that one a week later than the others…)

  5. I think it’s so great for so many reasons that you ate that mean rooster. Retribution is part of it, sure, but I’m appalled by the number of people who, softheartedly, allow a mean rooster to go on being a menace. Those spurs can put out an eye, you know. So I applaud your whole sane enterprise, cute names and all.

  6. shirleyhs says:

    It’s interesting to note the connection between farm life and memoir. Perhaps it’s just that like speaks to like, but it seems that quite a number of my memoir blogging friends have rural roots or rural hideaways or even working farms. They know whereof they speak.

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