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Irons in the fire: Don’t kick the chicken

Paul Marchant Published on 14 July 2015

It was just past 2 p.m. It was hot and dusty as they pushed the tail-end of the straggler calves and leppies out of the last draw and up to the little pond that brought welcome and cool relief to trail-weary cows and worn-out horses.

The crew of kids and day help was as tired as the calves that had long ago given up looking for their mamas.

Jim told his 9-year-old son, Tyler, that he could get off his horse to work the kinks out of his legs while they kept watch on mamas and babies to make sure everything got mothered-up before they headed back down the mountain to the trailers.

After 20 minutes or so, most of the cows had found their calves and settled down on the banks of the pond or had meandered off into the grove of quakies to shade up and rest.

Old number 217, however, wanted to head back down the trail. She couldn’t seem to find her calf. Tyler turned her back toward the herd twice, but she was persistent in her efforts to head back to the last place she had seen her calf.

Number 217 was an old, gentle, black brockle-faced cow who was kind of the family mascot because she always brought a big calf home and she’d been around longer than most of the kids.

Despite her insistence to the contrary, Jim knew her calf was 100 yards away, resting on the other side of the pond. After her third attempt to head down the trail, Jim, who was off his horse, had had enough. He wound up with his right leg and gave her a good, swift kick in the rear.

However, there was trouble afoot, as it were. In the midst of his best Garo Yepremian impersonation, Jim’s spur got tangled in old 217’s tail switch, and the old cow took off with Jim in tow.

Like a slow 1,100-pound rocket, the old girl trotted down the bank and through the brush and up the other side with Jim bouncing along like an old beer can behind a newlywed’s Chevelle. Tyler chased along after them in an attempt to rescue his dad.

Finally, after a 30-yard trip (that seemed like a 5K gauntlet to Jim), the spur came loose from the tail of death, and Jim survived to tell the tale.

Tyler, though a bit traumatized by the excitement, helped scoop his dad up out of the dust and manure. Jim survived with little more than a bruised ego and tailbone, and old 217 came home that fall with a nice big steer calf at her side.

This story reminded me of the time I tried to teach a lesson to a chicken. Sadly, that statement alone is probably a testament to my intelligence. (As if anyone could actually teach anything to a chicken.)

Our henhouse is an old converted shed whose roof we replaced with scraps of tin. We sometimes let the chickens out to roam around the corrals and yards to catch grasshoppers and bugs and whatever they can scrounge up in the horse turds.

I’m sure it saves us a bundle on chicken feed. At night, we lock them back up in the coop to protect them from weasels, skunks, coyotes and overzealous border collie pups.

One evening, as I was checking for eggs and locking up the hens for the night, one goofy old Wyandotte hen kept running past the door, refusing to go inside.

I was doing my best impression of Smart Little Lena, trying to cut her back, but I eventually lost my cool and swung my leg out to kick her as she darted by me one more time.

For her part in the story, the wily black-and-white hen earned the name Lucy – as I became her Charlie Brown. I missed her by 2 feet and ended up on my back, landing on a big old rock and breaking my rib. I would have liked to turn her into chicken stew, but of course I could never catch her.

It seems I’ve been taught the same lesson a thousand times, but it never seems to take hold for very long. It is rarely a good idea to act out of frustration or anger.

At least, it hasn’t ever worked out well for me. I either end up having to apologize, which is never a pleasant option, on my backside or both. So, I’ll leave a word of advice, if I may: Stay calm and don’t kick the chicken.  FG

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