From brooder to broiler

Oct 18, 2012 By Betty Starks Case

We have town and country experience with chickens

Chicken. What enters your mind when you hear the word? Dinner at a good restaurant with all the trimmings? A summer picnic of fried chicken with potato salad and watermelon?

We sense the ambience of both eating styles when family and friends share our summer breezeway. But when we drove to the country this week to pick up fresh-dressed chickens we'd ordered for the freezer, we could hardly believe all the memories these simple farm-raised birds brought to life.

Our country merchants order baby chicks from a hatchery and raise them to market size, then process them for sale. In contrast, my memory leaped back to childhood, when my two sisters and I pressed close as our mother carefully turned the eggs each day in the home brooder heated by a kerosene lamp. If the eggs had been under a mother hen, she explained, the hen would keep them warm beneath her feathers and gently stir them each day with her feet.

We presumed that proved exercise was necessary, even if you're still an egg.

The real wonder took place on the day we heard peeping sounds and looked into the brooder to see fluffy, yellow chicks picking their way out of the egg shells to freedom with their tiny beaks.

What might have been a breakfast egg had miraculously become a soft, fuzzy chick.

Much later, my mate and I chose a country life for about 10 years, where we raised, among many things, chickens.

Ours were hatchery chicks, and we had an electric brooder, but we fed them to fryer size, dressed and brought them to Riverton where, at that time, grocery stores and restaurants readily bought from local producers. The rest of the chickens were purchased quickly by residents who came running when they saw our vehicle arrive on their street.

Today's rules would not allow such direct farm-to-market activity, of course. Yet no one ever became ill from our processing, and both buyer and seller profited.

When my unpredictable mate decided at age 31 that he must go to college, we had to exchange country life for a world that left us feeling a bit insecure.

Ned enrolled at Casper College, and we purchased a small home there. We decided some farm-raised meat in the freezer might be reassuring until we proved that we could survive on part-time jobs while earning an education.

We'd brought a dozen chickens from the farm to Casper. Now where might we prepare them for the freezer?

At the time there seemed no choice. Logic (?) said, "Do it like you did on the farm."

When passing drivers saw our small yard full of headless birds meeting their demise, they slammed on their brakes and stared.

We'd almost caused an automobile pile-up in a residential zone.

One might be jailed for something like public endangerment with such an activity today. But if we could just "harvest" our meat as the Game and Fish allows hunters to do instead of "killing" or "butchering," it might not seem so gruesome. Even if the end result is the same.

We may have had more bird brains than intelligence in those days. Or maybe we were just lucky. We also raised turkeys and hauled them to a potential but undefined Thanksgiving market in the big grain box of our farm truck, covered with a tarp.

Arriving there late in the evening, where could we park the truck until morning where the turkeys would be safe?

My man's logic is not the kind you hear every day.

How about the infamous Sand Bar area where visitors to what was generously called "ladies of the night" probably wouldn't know or couldn't care about a turkey gobble if they heard one?

The truck full of turkeys spent the night on the Sand Bar, while we found a hotel in a more respectable zone.

Next morning, not one bird was missing. We sold them all live to one market and happily spent the money for the first really new furniture we'd ever owned.

If this tale has a moral, it might be: Don't turn up your nose at chicken or turkey, baked, fried or alive. A bird's life experience can't be easy when dealing with humans.

Print Story
Read The Ranger...