“American by birth. Southern by the grace of God.”
You’ve seen the bumper stickers, I’m sure. They are usually in close proximity to a Confederate battle flag, not to be confused with a Confederate flag. There is a difference.
I prefer to have the Flag of the Confederacy sticker on my car to encourage the uninitiated to ask questions, so I can watch their reactions.
Despite the occasional social opprobrium, a Confederate battle flag on your front lawn is quite possibly the world’s best alarm system. Add an eighty pound dog of questionable lineage with free range of the house, and you can literally not have locks on your doors.
As an Adopted Son of the South, I’ve had to get used to little oddities like not being able to buy liquor on Sundays and having strangers wave as I drive by. In exchange, no one raises an eyebrow at chickens in the bathtub, slapping Hell out of your kid in the middle of Kroger, or shooting a deer in the backyard through your bathroom window. As a matter of fact, the last two will earn you praise.
Life is different down south and gets even different-er when you can’t see your neighbors.
Due to the specter of possible legal action, I am only willing to admit to chickens in the bathtub. If you ain’t got video of the other two, I’ve never done either.
If you’ve been following my writing for any length of time, you may have heard me mention my rabbits. Now, these aren’t pet rabbits. They are livestock. Little fifteen pound blocks of white meat on the paw. Basically, their job is to get fat.
Actually, their job is to get muscular. I’d start them juicing steroids and build them a weight room, if I could get them to use it.
The recently acquired chickens (who spent a month in the Protective Custody Unit of my bathtub before release to Gen Pop) exist on a pay-as-you-go system; provide yummy eggs for my breakfasts, and I continue to feed, shelter, and keep other animals from killing you.
It’s Prison Rules around here.
I think the exchange is a fair one. It’s the equivalent of me having a job that provides for my needs in exchange for drinking scotch, smoking cigars, and chasing the wife around the house naked. The downside of this arrangement for them is the retirement plan stinks.
Probably the most useful thing I have learned keeping chickens is that they are stupid and mean, which is a bad combination in any creature. Add the desire to be photographed, and they could run for elected office. Thank God chickens aren’t the size of people because we wouldn’t win that fight very often without being heavily armed.
I have a dozen chickens at the moment, but I might not by the end of the week. I have one hen in particular that seems intent on breaking the covenant. Honestly, I’m not certain she’s a chicken. I swear I was sold a turkey. Not a metaphorical turkey. I mean an honest-to-goodness Meleagris gallopavo. Compared to the other chicks we bought at the same time, the girl is huge.
She’s the biggest chicken I’ve ever seen up close and personal, but that’s not saying much since this is our first foray into chicken farming. Or would that be chicken ranching? I have a lot to learn about homesteading, but I haven’t killed anything accidentally, yet.
From what my wife tells me, this chicken is likely too fat to lay eggs. Watching the way she waddles around the chicken coop (the chicken, not my wife), I tend to believe her (my wife, not the chicken).
I frequently scold my sons that the first tenant of manhood is to produce more than you consume. The same requirement is imposed on livestock in the Cunha household. We also have a standing rule of “behave or be eaten.” This portly pullet clearly wasn’t paying attention to the pep talk I give all new additions.
Not only has she refused to learn to forage despite being surrounded by eleven other chickens who freely demonstrate the behavior, my husky hen will body slam any other chicken that gets between her and store-bought feed thrown on the ground. It’s like watching a fat bridesmaid dive after a wedding cake bouquet.
Scratching about the yard for bugs and grasses on their own is a technique we use to defray the cost of feed. We do the same thing for the rabbits in some nifty ground cages I built called rabbit tractors. I don’t know if animals experience quality of life in the same way as humans, but they seem healthier and faster growing when offered more variety in their diet and some room to frolic.
In addition to our fatty boombalatty literally being on the chopping block, we have another yard bird who violates the “behave or be eaten” standard. My youngest daughter describes the situation best, “I named him ‘Pecker’ because he pecks everybody. You should kill him first.”
From your lips to Daddy’s hatchet, my dear.
At first, I thought it was the exaggerations of a nine-year-old. The little fella was probably doing rooster stuff like strutting and flapping his wings that she took as aggression, so I entered the coop to observe. Entering as calmly and unobtrusively as I could, I crouched in the corner. I was the Jane Goodall of chickens watching them mill about while chuck-chuck-chucking in chicken conversation.
Pecker approached to within arm’s reach and stopped. I reached out a steady palm-full of Purina’s finest chicken treats in an effort to form whatever passed for friendship in the world of chickens. Pecker eyed the crumbled treats and stretched out his neck for them. I waited for the gentle tap of Pecker’s pecker picking pieces of pullet pellets from my paw.
Instead, the little bastard tried to impale my hand. He pecked the web between each of my fingers before I realized he had turned on me. It felt like a game of Portuguese Poker gone horribly wrong.
Pecker will be culled along with his fat girlfriend.
On the farm, “culled” is a euphemism for killing an animal that doesn’t make the grade. Maybe it’s sick. Maybe its genetics are not what a breeder is looking for. Maybe it’s simply the wrong gender. One of the many harsh realities of farm life is eugenics is alive and well. We rule our little versions of the Fourth Reich like Josef Mengele swishing our riding crop left or right as livestock run around us in a large circle.
Two additional cockerels will be enjoying an afternoon in the stove-top Jacuzzi for no better reason than they are not as friendly as Brownie, our congenial cock.
We do even worse for the rabbits. My wife and I fret over whether they are too hot or getting enough minerals or watching too much television. I pay more attention to the breeding does’ ovulation cycles and prenatal care than I did my wife’s for any of her pregnancies.
When it comes time for breeding, I’m a one-main peep show audience as I stand by the cage making sure my breeding buck Sampson performs the one job he has in life. My wife and I endlessly discuss breeding schedules, due dates, and possible genetic combinations to achieve desirable results. Our alternating obsessions with miscegenation and genetic purity makes Heinrich Himmler look like a hippie.
Three and a half weeks later, my wife fusses over kindling boxes and changing rabbit moods. She sneaks out to the Rabbit Condo in the middle of the night to see if we have squirming, pink additions to the family.
We fuss over these animals more than grandparents over grandchildren. Then we kill them, cut their corpses into pieces, and eat them. It’s that Circle of Life thing.
But in the meantime while they await their ticket on the Freezer Express, they have a pretty good life. The chicken pen, at about a thousand square feet, is bigger than my first apartment, and what I refer to as the Rabbit Condo is better constructed than my house.
I don’t know if the way I raise my livestock is particularly Southern because I don’t have a basis of comparison. I didn’t raise any prior to living in the former Confederacy. What I do have experience doing as both an Adopted Son of the South and as a Yankee is going to Walmart.
Whatever your particular Walmart politics, here are my Walmart Truths:
- If Walmart ain’t got it, I don’t need it.
- Walmart ain’t never done nothin’ but make my life better.
- I love me some Southern Walmart in the summer.
That last statement cements my wife’s belief that I’m a dirty old man. And she is probably right, but she is also on record saying she would not have me any other way.
However, I have parental concerns that the skimpy nature of the attire worn by the young women in our locale is having a detrimental effect on my children. While working in the yard last weekend my youngest son walked out onto the back deck wearing this:
Son: “Dad, do these shorts make me look gay?”
Me: “It’s so much more than the sorts.”
Son: “Are they too short?”
My wife: “Carlos, aren’t you the one who says they ain’t shorts ’til you can see the pockets?”