Bob harbors fowl attitude towards raising chickens

Susan Manzke
A few of the current hens on Sunnybook Farm.

Our current flock of chickens consists of seven assorted hens and two roosters. These are ‘my’ chickens. Bob has never been fond of my feathered friends. His feelings began when he was a youngster on his family farm.

“When I was a kid my chores included taking care of the chickens,” said Bob. “We always bought straight run and raised the roosters for meat. That meant we had to butcher, pluck them clean of feathers, and eventually put them in our freezer."

Bob remembers helping kill those roosters.

"We had a stump with two nails in it. We put the chicken’s head between the nails, stretched the neck out, and with one whack of a hatchet, we chopped its head off and let it loose and watched the body hop around," he recalled. "Some would run pretty far."

Bob says his father took a large number of the butchered birds to the dairy where he worked and sold them there. Others were bought by people who came out to the farm.

“We raised the hens for eggs. When they got old and quit laying they were soup chickens. That means that when they were butchered they were thin and not good for anything but soup—we sold some to Campbell’s for their canned soup," he said.

Another of Bob's chores was to gather eggs—a job he admits hating.

"Chickens are dirty and buggy! They are also cannibals, so they peck one another and kill each other," he said.

The family also had a separate brooder house for starting out little chicks. The building was heated with kerosene heat and was set back quite a distance from the regular chicken house due to it being a fire hazard.

“When gathering eggs, I carried a big wide stick to pick a hen up who was still sitting on her nest.," he said. "That way she didn’t peck me. The hen pecked the stick instead, usually."

Cleaning the chicken house was done in the spring after the thaw and the ammonia level inside was pretty strong. Bob was roped into helping with this job and says he "would have rather done just about any other job around". Still, he couldn’t get out of the work.

"There was a lot of shoveling to clean out the buildup of chicken manure. It was a filthy job and still is," he said. "I don’t remember anybody who remembers chickens fondly."

Eventually the family gave up raising chickens when Bob's dad went into dairy farming. There was enough work caring for the cows to keep both he and his dad busy.

“I liked working with the cows a lot more than I did taking care of the chickens," he said. "Those birds were a lot of work for the little cash we got out of them. If we made any money, it wasn’t much for all the work involved."

A happy day for Bob when he brought down the hated chicken house.

Bob says it was a good day when he was able to demolish the chicken house.

"I used our newly purchased D-15 tractor with its new hydraulic loader. It did a great job," he said. "I probably was smiling when I smashed into that building. After that, no chickens would grace our Mokena farm."

It wasn't until we moved to Seymour, Wisconsin that we raised any poultry again.

"Those early days we bought a few geese. I don’t remember what happened to those birds. Eventually, Susan talked me into getting a few chickens," Bob said. “Those ten birds were her pets and I didn’t have to help take care of them."

Bob recalls a time when they raised a few hundred pasture poultry with movable chicken tractors, something he designed and built.

"Those birds were raised for meat, but ended up feeding the local raccoons instead," he said. “Our current nine birds are Susan’s pets. I don’t have to do anything for them, luckily."

Bob says it's a good thing we don’t have to survive on keeping a flock of chickens these days.

"We’d probably be feeding raccoons again,” he said.

FYI: Bob continues to fight his cancer. He appreciates every letter and note that has come from readers. We consider each and every one of you a friend and thank you.

Susan & Bob Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; sunnybook@aol.com.