Woster: There's nothing wrong with raising chickens, except for the battle with the pecking hen

In truth, getting pecked by a hen didn’t really hurt that much. But the anticipation of the pecking made me hesitate, and those uncooperative old hens took notice and showed no mercy.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

I never thought I would live to see the day when people would start raising chickens and gathering eggs in their own backyards.

I see by the news that backyard chickens are not just a thing but a growing thing. A group called the American Pet Product Association has an online survey that says ownership of backyard chickens increased from 8 percent in 2018 to 13 percent in 2020. I don’t know how many people 13 percent is, but it sounds like raising chickens at home is popular.

I am not being judgmental here. To each his own, I say. There is nothing wrong with raising chickens. I’m not sure I would like my next-door neighbor doing it, but as I have grown older, I realize I have become an absolute NIMBY, or “not in my back yard’’ codger.

Listen, I know more than a little about chickens. We raised them for as long as I can remember back on the farm. We had an authentic chicken coop, a smallish, dimly lit building with straw-lined rows of nests for the hens. We had a smaller metal shed next door where we kept grain to scatter across the ground in front of the coop at regular intervals. And every day — gosh, maybe twice a day? — we went into the gloomy coop to gather eggs.

It was a chore we passed around as kids. Scattering the feed and making sure the water dishes were full was simple. Sometimes gathering the eggs was, too. The simple times were when the hen was off the nest. Those times, you would just walk in and grab the eggs.


Sometimes, the hen was there, and sometimes she was not in a mood to cooperate. Few farm animals can be more cantankerous than a sitting hen. When I could, I grabbed the hen quickly and tossed her to the ground. Dad didn’t like that. It upset the hens, he said. He simply slipped his hand under the hen and took the eggs. He demonstrated the technique several times for me.

The thing was, when I tried it, the hen pecked the dickens out of my hand. In truth, getting pecked by a hen didn’t really hurt that much. But the anticipation of the pecking made me hesitate, and those uncooperative old hens took notice and showed no mercy. I grew to hate gathering the eggs even more than I disliked fixing barbed-wire fence on a sweltering summer day.

I did a quick online search to figure out how chickens came to be on our farm in the first place. One source said they showed up somewhere in China and Egypt eons ago. I read a piece that said Christopher Columbus brought chickens to America on his second trip. Well, maybe, but then I read what seemed like a scholarly piece that said Polynesians brought chickens to the Americas long before Columbus. It is hard to know exactly who I should blame.

Truth be told, while I didn’t like gathering the eggs, I purely loved the way my mom cooked them up with ham or bacon or sausages for breakfasts each morning. I have no idea how many eggs we ate our way through in a typical week. I know that for a while, our hens were producing enough to keep us in breakfasts and desserts, with some left to sell a few crates on a Saturday evening in town.

I can’t recall when I first heard the word “cholesterol,’’ but it wasn’t while I was on the farm. We ate what we raised and as much of it as we could shovel in. That included eggs and chickens. People have been eating eggs a long, long time. Some kid somewhere probably has been fighting cantankerous sitting hens for the eggs for just as long.

There were times when I gladly would have smashed the coop to bits. However, in the moist, dark soil on the north side, the best earthworms in the world lived. If I had to put up with gathering eggs to dig up a soup can’s worth of bullhead bait, it was worth it.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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