Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Two Big Mistakes

One of my chores on the farm when I was growing up was to gather the eggs from our chickens and guineafowl. Guineafowl are a vaguely chicken-looking kind of bird that is raised much like chickens. They tend to eat ticks and are sometimes used to control those pests. That’s probably part of the reason my dad kept them. Although generally smaller than chickens, they taste much the same when cooked, and their pint-sized eggs make tasty omelets. Guineas are also wilder than chickens and I remember having to search much further afield to find their nests and eggs. It was an adventure.

In contrast to the guineafowl, our chickens tended to stay close to the chicken barn where they both nested and roosted. That made their eggs easier to find, and we ate fresh eggs for breakfast just about every morning. Some chickens would quit laying eggs if you took the ones they produced, so to keep those hens laying Dad would sometimes replace their real eggs with wooden ones painted white. The chickens didn’t seem to notice the difference. Apparently, neither did another creature that sometimes haunted our hen houses.

While we wanted our chickens and guineas, of course, one of the most undesirable visitors to our farm was a large variety of black snake that we called a chicken snake. They often grew four or five feet long, and I saw some as long as seven or eight feet. I never saw a chicken snake eat an actual chicken, but I found them coiled up in the hen’s nests at times when I was out gathering eggs. Those nests were almost always empty of eggs, although I don’t believe the snakes were quite so empty themselves.

One day, I found a big six-footer in one of the nests where Dad had placed some wooden eggs. The snake had already swallowed one “egg,” which made a noticeable bulge in its belly, and had a second in its mouth. I remember watching in fascination as its jaws and throat distended around the white oval of wood, which it slowly worked back into its throat.

Normally, chicken snakes swallow the eggs they steal whole and then crack them inside their bodies, either by muscular contraction, or by wrapping themselves around a rock or tree for some added help. They then absorb the nutrients and crap out the pieces of shell. That was not going to happen for this unfortunate egg thief. I couldn’t even imagine the pain he was going to experience when he tried to crap out two intact wooden eggs.

I figured it was nothing short of merciful to kill him with a hoe to the neck. I trust he would have done the same thing for me if our roles had been reversed.
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28 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

My childhood was as different from yours as possible. But my Dad's family grew everything they ate and slaughtered hogs in their basement. So I am not so far away as I might be.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't live on a farm either. Probably a good thing you killed the snake. He was obviously too stupid to live anyway.

Ty Johnston said...

I still eat fresh farm eggs at least weekly. My mom lives just across the road from us, and she has about a dozen chickens. She's had guineas in the past, but they've all been killed due to one critter or another.

And store-bought eggs, even the ones from the nicer grocery stores, pale in comparison. Nothing so rich as a cake baked with eggs straight from the farm.

I didn't grow up living on a farm, but my grandparents lived on one farm, and I worked at one farm or another quite often, especially in tobacco.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Yep. Definitely a mercy killing. :)

James Reasoner said...

Guineas are also LOUD. The people who lived next door to my aunt had some, and you could hear them all over the neighborhood.

Erik Donald France said...

To quote the Illustrated Man: "It's a snake, ain't it????"

Probably truly was a mercy killing.

Interesting on the guinea fowl, too.

I've heard stories about "pet" yardbirds being served for dinner, much to the horror of one or more of the kids. Which reminds me of "city chicken" come to think of it.

sage said...

Guineas are also stupid--I remember hearing about a school bus taking out a flock of them when they suddenly flew out into the road. As for the snake, it a big mistake!

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, when we were growing up a lot more people were involved in the production of their own food. Very little of it now.

Alex, he would not have survived that experience for sure.

Ty, we eat a fair number of eggs, but have to buy them from the store now. I don't live close enough to home. Come to think of it, I don't think my brother on the farm even has chickens anymore.

Bernard, very true

James, I well remember their near constant calling. Not so bad in memory but I'd hate to have to put up with it every day now.

Erik, we ate a lot of chicken. Some of ours. but my mom also worked at a chicken processing plant and brought home chicken from there.

Sage, I do remember guineas being stupid. We eventually lost all ours to coyotes and never replaced 'em.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I didn't know chickens quit laying eggs if they found their nests empty. I grew up along a fishing jetty where I used to catch small crabs with my friends and then put them back into the sea.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, some chickens do. I don't know what percentage. I've saved a few critters in much the same way as you saved those crabs, although not involving the sea.

Tom Doolan said...

Oh, man. That's some real Americana gold right there. :)

Cloudia said...

Wow. A real growing up tale!



Aloha

Charles Gramlich said...

Tom, worth recording I think.

Cloudia, fun times on the farm.

Richard said...

Now I wonder why this story made me feel sad? Never saw a blacksnake, but we had both King snakes and Gopher snakes where I grew up on a dozen acres of mostly avocados with some citrus and fruit trees. The only animals we ever had were dogs, one at a time.

Richard said...

Oh and of course we had Rattlers. We also had a species of Tarantula, non-poisonous. They were cool.

David Cranmer said...

We raised chickens for awhile. Remember disliking the smell and cleaning up after them. Also remember my mom seeing a chicken eat a dead mouse and that was it for her eating eggs for a few years.

And I think you did the merciful killing there, Charles.

Randy Johnson said...

Not sure it was the same bird, we called them guinea birds and they were somewhat of a garden pest in my neighborhood. My best friend and I used to hunt the nests and destroy the eggs to cut down on the number of birds. There usually was a clutch of twenty to thirty eggs in a nest.

Riot Kitty said...

Ouch! That was a mercy killing for sure.

I think had you exchanged places, he would have eaten you just for fun.

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard, it's kind of sad. I never wanted to kill things that weren't dangerous to me. But I think it was a mercy killing for sure in this case.

David, never saw a chicken eat a mouse but certainly lots of bugs.

Randy, my mom called 'em guinea hens. They tended to have larger clutches of eggs than chickens but I don't remember it being that big. They definitely weren't very bright.

Riot kitty, most probably so.

jodi said...

Charles-that was a humane ending to that snakes life. My gramma had chickens on her farm and I would have ran like hell if I ever saw such a snake!

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, they don't have teeth, just some rough cartilage around the mouth. Pretty much they can only gum you.

Monique said...

Lovely memories Charles but I would not have dared killing that snake, I would have asked my dad to do this

Charles Gramlich said...

Monique, Dad was a real snake wrangler for sure. I'll have to tell some stories about him.

laughingwolf said...

on our farm, sis and i were too young to do much, but i recall dad hanging chickens by their feet, then slitting their throats... he and mom hand plucked them, of course

vaguely recall there were 3 - 4 swine, as well, penned

when we got older, we'd moved into town....

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, I remember dipping dead chickens in scalding water to make it easier to strip off the feathers.

Snowbrush said...

When I was a boy of eight, I was given my first real gun, and it was my pleasure to kill possums who were in the chickenhouse. Around that same age, I was attacked by a guinea hen when I got off the bus one day and crossed the ditch in which she had her nest. My Granny heard my screams and came sprinting from the house with a broom, which surprised me so much--her being old and going blind--that I almost forgot about what was on my head.

Charles Gramlich said...

Snowbrush, I've been flogged by chickens but managed to avoid the guineas.

Snowbrush said...

"I've been flogged by chickens but managed to avoid the guineas"

Then you haven't lived. Guineas can kill rhinos you know, given that the rhino has already been eviscerated and the guinea comes along and perforates its liver.