John Carlson: To Cluck or Not to Cluck

Early-stage chickens are fine, assuming they look like these. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonEarly-stage chickens are fine, assuming they look like these. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

My wife wants chickens.

I want chickens, too. It’s just that I want the kind of chickens named Original Recipe that Colonel Sanders packs into those red-and-white tubs with the initials “KFC” printed on the side of them.

Nancy wants hers in a coop out back.

Anyway, I have long been staunchly supportive of her desire to raise chickens within Muncie’s city limits. But that was only because I never dreamed we’d ever actually be allowed to raise chickens within Muncie’s city limits. Now that it looks like chicken-raising here could become a reality, I realize that deep down inside, I am pretty much a Muncie chicken-raising apostate.

That’s a little harsh, though.

I like live chickens, because I like eggs. This is whether they be used for egg salad, deviled eggs or in a fried-egg sandwich with buttered toast, plenty of salt and pepper and a generous swipe of wholesome, free-range Cheez Whiz. Three or four of those babies, plus a couple quarts of beer and twenty or thirty mini-Tootsie Rolls, and you’ve got yourself a meal.

And seeing as the new city proposal is strictly limited to chickens gainfully employed in egg-laying, it does negate one major concern of mine. See, I grew up listening to tales my Grandma Millie told of her rural upbringing, in which chickens played a major role. Take it from me, there was never a sweeter woman than she. Nevertheless, she’d very matter-of-factly describe how, come dinner time every Sunday, she’d be sent out to wring the neck of some unlucky clucker chosen to be plucked for the main course.

Am I the kind of simpering, wimpy, pantywaist who couldn’t wring a chicken’s neck because I am way too much of a pansy?

Yeah, definitely. For sure. P-A-N-S-Y. Pansy.

And when Grandma Millie wasn’t wringing chicken necks, she was also known to bear an ax and a nervous chicken to the old chopping block, then decapitate it. Afterward, she swore it wasn’t unusual for the headless chicken to run a few laps around the barnyard, until it got used to the idea of being dead on its feet.

Now, as a homeowner rooted in the screw-the-grass-let’s-go-watch-television-instead School of Lawn Maintenance, I’m not a big stickler on disciplines like weeding and maximizing curb appeal. However, I draw the line at headless chickens sprinting around my yard bleeding on stuff.

But as previously noted, if city folks get the OK for chickens, it looks like it’s going to be for egg-laying only. So what could I possibly object to?

On a strictly personal level, it’s the fact I was never cut out to be a farmer, not even on a chicken-coop level.

Years ago I accepted this shortcoming of mine, shortly after Nancy and I married, during a visit to her late father’s hog farm. Wishing to fully inculcate myself into the joys of farm life, I volunteered to help clean out one of his hog barns. In this barn, hogs defecated through a slotted floor, the objects of their odiferous efforts pooling on a second, solid floor beneath it. Then Nancy’s dad, Lou Briggs, simply hooked up his tractor to that lower floor and slid it out from under the slotted floor for easy cleaning.

For a city slicker, the farm that day was a virtual cornucopia of the senses. The warm yellow sun. The azure sky dotted with cottony clouds. The soft hum of the ripening stalks of golden corn, swaying hypnotically in the breeze. The emerald green shimmer of the robust soybeans. The earthy scent of the rich, black, Illinois soil melding with the perfume wafting from a newly baked apple pie, cooling off on a handy kitchen window sill.

But somehow, what I couldn’t quite get past, was finding myself ankle deep in pig poop.

Suddenly, as fervently as I had wanted to experience the joys of farm life, I figured the less I knew about farm life the better. In fact, by design, I learned as little about farm life as I possibly could for the next thirty-five years or so, until Muncie’s exciting new chicken news surfaced.

Now I have one major question. Well, two. First, chickens poop, too, right? And second, has modern chicken-raising reached a point where chickens are bred to use tiny flush toilets installed in their coops?

I fear the answers are yes and no.

Of course, Nancy being an energetic farm girl, and me being a city boy who is basically a lump, should we acquire chickens, she will undoubtedly take the lead in raising them. Still, we’re both of an age where, as the saying goes, stuff happens. Should some day her lumbago lurch into spasms, might it not be me who is temporarily thrown into the breach? Me, who is expected to clean out the chicken-coop poop?  Me, who goes from reluctant chicken raiser to an even more reluctant provider of chicken septic services?

Indeed …

But it may happen, and I love my wife, so I guess I’ll learn to live with it. Besides, I must also remember that, along with feeding them and protecting them from critters intent on doing them harm, I’ll get first dibs on collecting the eggs our chickens deliver.

That sounds pretty good.

Just for the record, though, those suckers better be tastier than the ones we buy at the store.


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.