Beware of a free chicken

Great grandson of Shorty stands guard.

Every kid who grew up on a farm seems to have a mean chicken story. I was reminded of one last night. Several years ago, when Matt was a little kid, I bought some pullets from my brother. We were getting into the chicken and egg business and “ready to lay” pullets put us on the fast track. We had the hens in cages and I was about to leave when my niece, a really sweet kid, came up with a shiny white rooster snuggled in her arms. She said “Uncle Ed, would you like to have Shorty?” Twenty four hens, I figured a free rooster with a funny name like Shorty, couldn’t hurt. Besides, she was so cute I couldn’t say no.

Shorty was a white leghorn. Leghorns are a small breed of chickens but widely regarded as the queen of the layers. They are popular with commercial laying operations because they lay lots of big white eggs for the first year of their lives. Unlike dual purpose breeds, chickens that can both lay eggs and are large enough for a Sunday dinner, leghorns, particularly the roosters, are not in great demand. Perhaps Shorty knew this when he came to our farm with a chip on his shoulder.

Back in the day, we subscribed to free range chicken raising. After a week or two of being acclimated to their surroundings, I threw open the coop door and let the chickens chase bugs and scratch in the dirt. This coincided with young Matt Nelson’s sandbox days. The sandbox was adjacent to the screen house, which was about 50 feet from the coop.

It was early in the day. The chickens, up with the sun, had scattered across the yard. Mrs. Ed heard the screams from deep within the house. I heard them from the sheep barn. We both came running. “Mom, Shorty is after me!”. Sure enough, Shorty, the little white rooster, was in the attack mode. His feathers puffed out, neck arched, he was determined to drive away this intruder.

By the time I got to the barn door, Mom had already sprung into action. As she flew out the door she grabbed a broom. “Shorty!” she screamed “Get away from him!”

A battle ensued that can barely be described in words. An angry mother in her bathrobe, armed with a broom, charging a very feisty rooster. Round and around they went. Mom swinging the broom with the vengeance of an out-of-control hockey player. Rooster, spurs slashing the air, charged and retreated with each swipe of the broom.

There are times when a person should think before he starts laughing. I learned an important lesson that day. To make a long story shorter, Mom won the day, and Shorty had to slink away to fight another day.

In hindsight I don’t think Shorty was a name of endearment, rather it was a “cowboy” name. A cowboy named Shorty conjures up a little fellow with a chip on his shoulder. He is a fellow who needs some puffery to make other cowboys take notice. He is someone who wears his spurs proudly and is not afraid to use them.

Needless to say, the chicken’s days of free ranging came to an abrupt end. Shorty wasn’t happy. I carried a stick with me when I went to pick eggs. Fall came and so did an idea I got on a pheasant hunting trip. We walked for miles in search of the wily birds. When we got anywhere near they flew off leaving us frustrated. Idea! I’ll get some hen pheasants and cross them with Shorty. They will produce rooster pheasants with attitudes. Imagine going into a cornfield where the birds charge the hunter! It would revolutionize the sport!

Shorty lived for many years. One morning, well into his mid-life. Shorty flew the coop. He joined the band of outlaw chickens who were hatched by rogue hens and roosted high in the cedar tree by the workshop. When I passed the tree going to and from chores, I could feel his one good eye following me, I made sure he could see my stick.

Shorty, who once spread terror on Mr Ed’s Farm, disappeared sometime during the winter, perhaps the victim of a roving coyote or fox. That would have been a fight to see. Shorty’s legacy lives on in the band of wild chickens that still roam the farm today.

Did I mention a marketing idea I have? Any kid that can catch a wild chicken on Mr. Ed’s Farm can take it home! How can anyone turn down “a free chicken?”


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