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Caring for Chickens–and Wildlife Farther Afield

Haven’t slipped my fingers deep into the soft feathers of chicken wings for a long time, but it’s a necessary move in order to catch escapees scurrying through an open gate. It’s actually a pleasant sensation, and essential for holding those wings down—to prevent the chicken from flapping its wings in your face. And coming at the chicken from behind, of course, keeps you safely away from the beak. I know this because I’ve had some peck-prevention coaching from my younger brother. It’s come in handy lately because I’m caring for my neighbors’ chickens, and rabbit and kitty, while they are in the mountains this month.

My niece learning to avoid the chicken’s beak.

Back in Central Illinois, my younger bro, Emil John, raised chickens. His Araucana rooster Hawkeye won a crowing contest at the Illinois State Fair when EJ was 12. Crowing 69 times in a half hour got the attention of Time magazine (“Roosters and Rumblings,” August 25, 1975), and also resulted in a fat scrapbook of front-page news clips from across the country and around the world. But that’s another story.

Hawkeye and EJ took 1st place with 69 crows in 30 min.

I love the sound of a rooster crowing (except the one who’d announce our arrival when we kids turned on an upstairs light after coming home late; he apparently thought that light was the sun). I love chickens, and I love doing these chores for my vacationing neighbors. As I was telling Mr. Bunny as I stroked his back yesterday, I’m on staycation. Of course, that’s what tourism marketing people have smartly dubbed a vacation-at-home, and this has been one of my favorite trips in years—albeit just a hop, skip, and jump from my house. Absent the green, green grass of home, this mini-trip is otherwise much like visiting my birthplace.

This morning I was also thinking of the pheasant feather hats my mother, and other women of her day, would make and wear to church on Sundays. Those soft brown hats were beautiful, always adorned with a special-find feather of brighter colors. Dad would go hunting for pheasants in the winter, and Mom would make pheasant feather hats. Yes, really. As winter wore on and our angus in the freezer got depleted, pheasants—along with squirrels, and to a lesser extent, rabbits—made up a significant part of our winter diet, just as fish (like the one in “Lead Pencil Girl Gone Techno”) contributed to summertime fare. (Now you know why I became a pesco-vegetarian at 19!)

In earlier days, I also practiced my Illini fishing ways in the Sierras.

Pheasants came to mind this morning because I was reading Andy Griffin’s “What the Dust Tells Us,” in the current Two Small Farms, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) newsletter. Andy’s prose is full of simple wisdom and beauty, and he reminded me not only of pheasants back home but of the changing wildlife patterns in my own neighborhood in recent years. When Monterra was first developed, just east of me, I had a wild boar in my vegetable garden that summer. Coyotes moved their homes to my rural neighborhood as well—which is fine, except for some full moon nights when they get the dogs barking. A mountain lion startled a neighborhood teenager coming up our lane very early one morning. And, to the great delight of my friend Judy and me, the Monterra development also resulted in more bluebirds making our piece of paradise their new home.

As Andy Griffin’s tales from the dust reminds readers, his organic farm is habitat for a huge family of wildlife. If you want to help protect it, and you live in the Monterey Bay region, consider subscribing to Two Small Farms’ produce deliveries. A new friend in Montana—an incredible writer whose literary work will, I predict, be much celebrated—hadn’t yet heard of CSAs. Check them out by visiting the Two Small Farms website. Or visit the Local Harvest site, which may lead you to a CSA in your own area.

Want to help others learn to farm organically, or support those who already do? Check out the good work of the Ecological Farming Association, which for thirty years now has followed in the footsteps of my good friends, the late Bob and Barbara Rowe of Dalton City, Illinois (founders of Friends of the Farm), along with other organic farming/sustainable ag leaders.

And thanks, Andy, for my morning inspiration. Yup, cherish those critters!

Above: I loved holding my brother’s baby chicks!

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For a few more farm scenes, refer to this 12/26/11 post.

Related posts on this site include:

Below: This visitor wanted to see my brother’s chickens, but it was so cold outside. “No problem,” my bro said, “I can bring one indoors for you to see.”

This post was published on 31 July 2009. One or more changes last made to this post on 5 February 2021.

  1. I think most of those pheasants/pheasant feathers came from our farm. Opening day was quite an event for us. Family came from all over, and we waited till the required 12:00 noon to hit the fields. Uncle Frank was the one I remember the most. He took off running after a wounded bird once, birds were flushed out and flying all around him as he ran. Everyone was doubled over laughing. I also remember that pheasants are very smart birds. They would hold very tight in tall cover, and you almost would step on one before he would flush. Either that, or they would just run out the end of the field as we walked along. Some would even run between us and run back the opposite of our direction. A good hunting dog could earn their keep, but we evened the playing field and never had a good dog!!!!!!

    In those days (1960’s), pheasants were so thick that they would roost in our trees. To my dad’s annoyance, they would follow the corn planter in the field and scratch out the seed.

    With the gross avoidance of crop rotation and small grain crops, the pheasants have basically left Central IL.

    I’ll stop by frequently Mari, Flo sent me the info on your blog. Congrats!

  2. Sierra says:

    Loved this post! And the addition of pictures is so fun to see!

    I still can’t imagine eating pheasant. Hmmm…no thanks 😉

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