For the Love of Chickens by Mary Jo Wallace

Our dear friends Blane and Mary Jo Wallace, live in a big red barn nestled into a quiet corner of Calloway County. There is no place more peaceful than their front porch swing, surrounded by the gentle hills of Wallace Pack Farm. If you’re looking for a place to board your horses or want to meet their chickens, visit their facebook page.

Blane and Mary Jo Wallace own Wallace Pack Farm where they have horses, chickens, and a ill-tempered donkey with wanderlust.

My first career goal in life was to be a farmer’s wife.  It was the early seventies and everyone was talking about ERA, but the news hadn’t hit my small town yet. So it never occurred to me that I could be a farmer in my own right.  (I spent most of my young childhood looking for a farm boy that I could marry.)

Aunt Sarah was my role model and I spent summers with her.  It was here that I learned about all kinds of farm animals, but it was the chickens that really caught my eye.  I fed them and collected eggs several times a day.  All this was overkill, but Aunt Sarah loved the passion with which I pursued such things, so she indulged me.

My husband never liked chickens, much preferring the company of mules.  At the tender age of fifteen he was flogged by a rooster.  He ran to get away from him and attempted to jump an unlatched gate.  The gate swung open and Blane lay on the ground, trying to get the breath to return to his lungs.  At this point he tried to buy the chicken from its owner.  The owner informed him that he could never part with his prize chicken.  Blane assured him he only need a few minutes alone with the creature and would return him when he was done with him.

Seven years ago when we moved to our farm I had to beg Blane for some chickens.  He gave in and his Uncle from Dover, TN brought us five hens and two roosters, one of the roosters was a bannie (a smaller breed of chickens.)  We named the hens for my aunties on my mother’s side because they did enjoy a good hen party.  Edna, Louisa, Eloise, Sarah and Bessie proved to be good mothers.  Soon our little flock had risen to 25 feathered friends.  We did nothing special, no incubators or brooders; we just let nature take its course.  Every chicken hatched on the place has stayed here until it crossed chilly Jordan…sometimes with the help of a coyote or a chicken hawk we suspect.

Blane loves sitting on the front porch swing, feeding grain to the chickens.

So, Uncle Dewey  brought us these new chickens.  Blane kept calling them my chickens, but I noticed how he would speak lovingly to them when he thought I was not around.  He began to instruct me in their care and feeding.  Our Internet history was filled with all kinds of chicken sites that I had not visited.  He counted the chickens everyday and would grieve when one came up missing.  Blane had crossed over.  He had become a chicken lover.

My husband and I are not gardeners. (I’m sure the Medlocks are secretly disappointed by this. Lol.)  Even if we were, I am sure the abundance of wildlife on the place would interfere with our efforts.  I can’t stand the thought of raising pigs or cattle and sending them to slaughter.  I am too soft hearted and don’t want to know my food that intimately.  For now, our meat comes from the freezer section of Kroger.  Our vegetables come from Kroger, the farmer’s market and friends.  Our eggs, however, are fresh.

There is nothing I like more than cracking open one of those country eggs and seeing that deep, dark yellow.  I could eat eggs for every meal. No longer am I satisfied with the weak, pale yellows of city eggs.  I want my country eggs and all their eggy goodness.  I like them fried, boiled, poached or scrambled.  They’re good alone or with toast, biscuits croissants, bacon, ham…

There are so many ways that you can enjoy eggs.  If you get bored with the same old fried eggs try them scrambled with cheese and salsa or green peppers and wrap them up in a burrito.  Another great idea is an egg with bacon on a grilled cheese sandwich.  In a hurry, try the scramble and cooked in the microwave.  Add any of your favorite ingredients and you will have yourself a delicious, puffy omelet in just a matter of minutes.

Some anti-egg activists, and I use that term loosely, would have you to believe that eggs are not good for you.  How dare they!  Eggs are only seventy calories, and you get your money’s worth for those seventy calories.  They are a source of high quality protein, unsaturated fats and antioxidants.  Further more, they are a natural source of thirteen essential vitamins and minerals.

Anyone who suffers from a vitamin D deficiency, like me, should give eggs a second and third thought.  If for some reason, you are unable to spend time in the sun there are other sources of vitamin D such as artificial sunlight, cod liver oil, store-bought vitamins, beef liver, or cheerios.  Better, more natural choices include eggs and milk.  Now which would you rather try?

Eggs are wonderful because a chicken doesn’t have to die to put food on your plate.  Maybe this is why a hen crows so loudly when she lays an egg.  Perhaps this is her way of saying, “Come and get it.  Look what I’ve done for you.  There’s more where that came from.”

Speaking of the sounds a chicken makes, get rid of that romantic notion that a rooster wakes you up at dawn by crowing a beautiful tune.  Sometimes they wake you at the crack of midnight.  They get confused during the full moon or sometimes they just can’t sleep.  Our current rooster, Chanticleer, ensures that if he cannot sleep, no one will.  Sometimes, especially when a rooster is very young, the crow is more like an off key saxophone or a squeaky set of bagpipes than a full-bodied trumpet.

Do I sound like I’m complaining?  I don’t mean to.  I love every obnoxious sound the little critters make.  I half believe they are one of God’s little jokes.  What looks more ridiculous than a a flock of chickens running from a small child or a cat?  The squawking noises and running amass like…well like chickens with their heads cut off. Attempting to soar like eagles and then reaching only six foot in the air but sticking their breasts out in a proud gesture as though they penetrated the first layer of the stratosphere.

The best is when they come running for their feed all anxious that they might miss out on something.  If a grain of corn should happen to land of a chicken instead of the ground, he’ll take off running like the sky is falling.  There’s a reason they are called chickens.

Red the Rooster

Not all chickens are chicken.  One time Blane’s favorite rooster, Red, failed to report to the roost one evening.  We assumed he had fell prey to one of a chicken’s natural predators.  Two weeks went by and we saw him limping up the driveway.  He was quite a sight.  Raw skin showed through places the feathers were missing.  Blane ran to him and he limped to his arms.  I’m not kidding either.  I know it sounds like poetic license, but it really happened.

Something interesting we found out about vets:  most vets will not treat individual chickens.  That’s because in vet school chickens are treated like livestock rather than pets.  It’s not that they don’t want to treat them as individuals; they don’t know how.  They’re used to treating them by adding a certain number of cc’s to each gallon of water.  Blane found this out after calling every vet in a twenty-five mile radius.  So, seeing there was no other hope, Blane gathered Red up in his arms, made him a special bed in the barn and lovingly fed and watered him twice a day all the while talking to him in soothing, cooing noises.  Red recovered.

There’s something special about living on a farm and the intimacies you share with the animals.  I love all my animals, but the chickens are special.  They were the first farm animals I ever loved.  They make me think of my childhood and simpler times.  They remind me of Aunt Sarah and her cooking fresh eggs for my breakfast.  They remind me of my first love–farm life.

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2 thoughts on “For the Love of Chickens by Mary Jo Wallace

    • She’s an amazing writer. One of my favorite stories she’s written begins, “My nephew lives in a double-wide down by creek.” Best. Story. Ever.

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