As we approach the hope of a new property soon and of getting back to gardens and animals and flowers and woods, I find myself remembering some of the situations at our valley home that offered the biggest learning opportunities. It has been said that chickens are the gateway animal into farm animals, and we are not in a place to really disprove that fact in any way. The first birds we purchased were Buff Orpingtons, and they are great birds to learn with. Our first flock was pretty easy. They did not like us bothering them, but they were content to live inside their fence, unlike the Rhode Island ladies we purchased later.
Early successes gave us a sense of accomplishment, and the next spring we expanded our flock. We relocated them to the back corner of our property, as far away from neighbors as we could put them. Our first crew had taught us quickly that, to be a thoughtful neighbor, plan A – rotating them in my garden spot to build up the soil – would not work. While expanding our flock, we decided to go all-in and purchase Cornish Cross meat birds along with the Rhode Island Reds and Asian Blacks that we chose as chicks.
All continued to go well, and the Cornish Cross lived up to every expectation that we had from researching them prior to purchase. As one may assume when buying meat birds, there came a time to harvest the meat. This part of food production may be uncomfortable to talk about if you have not lived on a farm or homestead, but our family chooses to eat meat. It is my firm belief that, if a person chooses to do so, they should at least once in their life come to terms with the full reality of what that means. It makes us more intentional consumers, and it keeps us aware of diligently making use of every bit of nutritional value that can be had from that provision. We do not take harvest lightly, and it was always a very solemn day at our little homestead. There is, however, a sense of morality that seems to rise inside as a person trying to right the wrongs of an overworked food production system.
That being said, we eventually had to buckle down and have processing day. Being the newbies that we were, we tried to operate under the make-it-work DIY approach. Bret made the chicken processing cones, and they would have worked, except for the fact that they were made from modified construction cones (yes, the bright orange atrocities). Bird one was successfully processed, then on to bird two. Bird two was larger than the first and weighed more than the cone could adequately handle. To paint the picture properly, let us recap a few key points. (1) Newbie homesteaders completely uncomfortable with this whole process are conducting the day’s operation. (2) DIY on a budget plastic cones are being used for the day’s operation. (3) We are processing meat birds, and that comes with certain unavoidable facts (fair warning for the story that follows!).
As bird two was in the cone, Bret handled the initial processing procedure. Bird two was now, well, headless. This is exactly the moment we realized that we had a problem. Good ole Bird Two flopped immediately from the bright orange cone and began to run chaotically around the yard, wings flopping dramatically, HEADLESS – all the while being chased by an incredibly stressed out Bret. Call me insensitive, but at this point I was dying laughing. Never have I ever in my entire life thought that I would watch my soulmate chasing a headless chicken around my backyard fire pit! Eventually Bret did catch the chicken, and all was quiet on the home-front again.
That was the fateful day that we learned the origins of the phrase, “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” I had never given thought to the saying until that day, but I will never forget it now. Sometimes I look at the pace of the world around me and wonder -if we could get a further away perspective, would all of us look like that chicken? I certainly hope that there is purpose to all my running around, but I feel like during this season of life with so many of our “normals” stripped away, I have learned just how much I did because of expectations, obligations, and traditions. All of those are beautiful things to choose when they are actively chosen, but I no longer want to be a Bird Two chicken, running around chaotically without purpose. I want to intentionally look at life and CHOOSE what fills my time. CHOOSE the best way to make my community better. CHOOSE the best way to fulfill my life’s purpose.
“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately.” — Oscar Wilde