Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday Memories: Livestock

I wrote about dogs and cats in a previous installment of this series, but those weren’t the only animals we had when I was a kid. Both of my parents came from a rural background, growing up in the country or in very small farming communities during the Depression, so having livestock around just came natural to them. Our large backyard was divided into three sections: the half right behind the house, which was the actual backyard part and had a wire fence running all the way across it; and the back part, divided into unequal sections by another fence running at right angles to the first one, all the way back to the creek. There was also a barbed wire fence all across the back of the property, along the creek. The larger back section on the left (looking at it from the house) was the cow pen; the smaller area to the right was the chicken pen.

Now, honestly, I don’t know if the property was divided that way when my parents bought it, or if my dad put up those fences to create those two pens. But it was that way as far back as I can remember. We didn’t always have a cow (more about that later), but we always had chickens.

This was the mid-Fifties, and the street where we lived wasn’t actually in the city limits at this time, so there were no restrictions or ordinances to worry about. If you wanted to have a flock of chickens, nobody was going to stop you. We had a pair of roosters and probably eight or ten hens. I named the roosters: Pete and Joe. (I had not yet entered my “oddly named pets” phase.) If any of the hens had names, I’ve forgotten them.

In the back corner of the chicken pen was the chicken house, where the hens had nests where they slept and laid their eggs. It was my job, at least part of the time, to gather those eggs. I didn’t mind all that much, although I was a little squeamish about all the droppings. But I don’t recall ever having any real trouble gathering eggs.

It did bother me, however, when my parents decided they didn’t actually need two roosters. I’ll never forget following my dad down to the pen where he grabbed either Pete or Joe, whichever one of the poor creatures he was able to catch, and promptly wrung his neck. Head popped right off. I was horrified. And then I had to help pluck the carcass. Maybe that’s why, for a long time, I didn’t care much for fried chicken. (Spoiler alert: I got over it.)

I also fed the chickens some and enjoyed scattering the chicken feed. In those days it didn’t take much to entertain us.

My other memory involving the chickens has to do with the chicken house. One time when we were down in Blanket visiting relatives, a huge windstorm came through Azle, knocked a big tree branch down on top of the little room on the other side of our garage my father used for his TV repair shop, and turned the chicken house over. It sat on a concrete slab but didn’t have a floor and wasn’t fastened down in any way. It was just four walls and a roof. But the storm didn’t damage it, just tipped it over, so my dad, my older brother, and some of my brother’s friends got behind it and just pushed it back upright. I’d never seen an actual building you could do that to.

Speaking of my brother, he was in high school at the time, took ag classes, and was a member of the Future Farmers of America. As one of his FFA projects, he raised a cow in our cow pen, which had a shed in it as well as an enclosed, attached room where we stored feed. The cow eventually had a calf, and we had fresh milk as well as a cute little calf to raise, which we did, until the time when (yes, you saw this coming, didn’t you?) they slaughtered and ate it! At least they took it somewhere else to have all that done, so I didn’t have to watch it. But again, not one of my favorite childhood memories.

Later on, we had a young bull we kept in that pen. I don’t recall why. This was late enough my brother would have been out of high school, so it wasn’t an FFA project. Since he was in college, or maybe even married by then, it became my job to feed the bull. I hated that bull. I hardly ever went in that pen without him chasing me. He never knocked me down and trampled me, but he butted me numerous times. He’d been dehorned so I didn’t get gored, but I still didn’t like it. Eventually, he wound up in the freezer, too. That bothered me a little (I’m soft-hearted, I guess), but not as much as the other livestock we ate.

In addition to all this, our next door neighbor was the ag teacher at the high school and the FFA sponsor, and his son raised hogs and sheep in the rear part of their backyard, which was fenced off like ours. For some reason, I loved those hogs and would go over there every chance I got to help slop them. I know, that doesn’t sound like me, but I really enjoyed working with them. Some of the huge boars were a little scary, but overall I never had any trouble with the hogs. The sheep, on the other hand, did not like me and I didn’t like them. One of the rams really had it in for me and came up behind me and butted me many times. I don’t think anybody else around the circle cared for having a hog and sheep farm in the neighborhood, but I liked it.

By the time I was in high school, all the chickens had died and we had no cattle. My dad decided to take down all the fences and make the whole thing a huge backyard. He tore down the cow shed and had a metal storage barn built. I think he sold or gave the chicken house to somebody who hauled it off to use it for the same purpose. I could still show you where the fences ran and where the shed and the chicken house were (I think the metal storage barn is still there), but as I’ve said before, somebody else lives there now. I doubt if anybody on the street has chickens now, since the city probably frowns on such things. When my dad was still alive, he did have a garden for a while in what had been the cow pen, but that was the extent of his agricultural activities. I was never really a country kid, but I got a taste of that life, anyway, both the good and the bad, and I’m grateful for that.


Peter Brandvold said...

Thanks for the memories, James. I'm enjoying these immensely. But from one old rooster to another: Poor Pete! (Or Joe.)

I look forward to the next essay.

Cap'n Bob said...

That sounds swell to me. About all we had were cats, which aren't really livestock and are generally useless, but we loved them anyway. And we never ate any.