Joiner’s Corner: A story about chickens

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I don’t particularly care for chickens.  I appreciate their role in the food chain but find nothing endearing about their personality.  Our troubled relationship goes back to my first paying job of gathering eggs.  I was probably six or seven years old and got paid a penny per egg.

We had a large fenced area about 50 feet from our back door.  Our white-feathered laying hens had plenty of room to frolic and hunt grasshoppers and such.  A small opening at ground level provided the chickens access to a wooden building we called the coop. The coop was about twenty feet long and maybe ten feet wide.

Inside the coop was a row of straw lined nests for the hens to lay their eggs in, and a long wooden perch that was a few feet off the ground.  It was a spacious and secure fortress, almost impenetrable to potential invaders like the red fox who lived in the nearby woods.

The hens had access to an unlimited supply of ground corn that Daddy bought from Giles & Hodge Purina Store.  We poured the corn into the top of the round metal feeder in the coop and the chickens pecked it out from the bottom.  All that was asked in return was one egg per day.

By the time I began gathering eggs our rooster was gone.  He had attacked my brother Jimmy and learned too late the consequences of breaching unpardonable sin.  Most of the time the hens cooperated with my egg collections.  Occasionally, however, we would have a setting hen that was difficult.  They were called setting hens because they would set themselves on the eggs to incubate them.  Even though the rooster was long gone, their maternal instinct drove them to protect the nest.

It was my ongoing battle with setting hens that caused my relationship with all poultry to go afoul.  I was about eye level with their nest.  The setting hens would stare crazily at me and refuse to budge.  My solution for that was to pry them off the eggs with a stick.  That process on one occasion led to the death of a setting hen, a death which I still maintain was in self-defense.

But lately I’ve had to reconsider my attitude about chickens.  Maybe I’ve been a bit narrow minded in my thinking.  Maybe I’ve been influenced by a somewhat errant childhood perception.

Groves and Mary Jo Jeter from Byromville have a son named Walt who lives in Charleston, South Carolina.  When Hurricane Florence was heading that way in September of 2018, Walt and his family drove to Byromville to stay until the danger passed.

Walt, Lorraine, and their three children, Luke, Isa, and Ivey came to Georgia.  They also brought three dogs, two roosters, and two hens along.  I understood bringing the dogs, but the chickens seemed a bit of a stretch, even for a family of devoted nature lovers.

Their first chickens had come by way of The Easter Bunny in 2016.  The bunny brought a biddy for each of the children plus one for their mother.  They named them of course and provided good care and companionship.  Mary Jo confesses she is not a “chicken holding type of person” but says she could not resist when a granddaughter said, “Here, JoJo!  Hold Cora Belle!  Isn’t she sweet?”

The original cast members have changed some, but their flock still numbered four when the Jeter family left South Carolina.  Luna, Harbor, Louise, and Rooster Boy made the trip from Charleston to Byromville.  The stress of travel was too much for Louise, but the other three have been relocated to the home of a friend.  The Jeter children all went to help deliver the chickens and to say their goodbyes.  They left their fowl friends in Georgia but retained unlimited visitation rights.

I would have probably turned those chickens loose in South Carolina and told the kids they should be fine.  But Walt and Lorraine made the extra effort to do the right thing.  I don’t know as it mattered a lot to the chickens, but it mattered to the children.  Three children on James Island will long remember their unusual trip to Georgia.  They’ve been given a wonderful lesson in parenting.  That may not be obvious to them now, but I expect it will serve them well somewhere down the road.

I doubt that I’ll ever want a chicken for a pet, but I’ll admit that my attitude is mellowing a bit.  Maybe one day soon I’ll bring a chicken home for dinner.  That seems like a really good place to start.