The following is reprinted from March 2012.
In the time of the days of my youth, all farm families derived most of their food from the farm. For instance, hogs, cattle and chickens were raised to produce ham, bacon, beef, milk, eggs and chicken. Gardens, hunting and fishing added to the food supply, leaving not much need for store-bought goods. Some country folks even made their own whiskey and wine, which, to me, was not all that bad, except when some made more than they needed and began to sell it to others.
Back then, come city folks kept a few chickens in their backyards, but with advanced civilization, that practice gradually died out and was unheard of for many years, until fairly recently. Now, there is a growing trend for some city folks to once again have chickens for one reason, and that’s to be sure their eggs are fresh. I recently saw on the TV news that a nearby large city had passed an ordinance allowing no more than 10 hens, but no roosters.
Chickens were a most important part of my family’s life on our farm, furnishing a never-ending supply of fresh eggs. As a little boy, often I would see a hen fly off her nest, cackling loudly, and I would take the still warm egg to the house and give it to Mama. You can’t get much fresher than that. We kept about 50 laying hens and several roosters at our barnyard, and many had their own nests in the hayloft. One of our farm workers, on a windy March day, said that it was so windy that he saw a chicken lay the same egg three times.
Most of our chickens laid big brown eggs, but there were two or three that laid white eggs. The Rhode Islands were large, dark red chickens, and there were Barred Rocks, which some people called Domineckers. Both of these laid brown eggs. Some highly educated people today say that there is no difference in the taste and nourishment between brown and white eggs, but in my day they would have been scoffed at. We who lived on the farms knew that brown eggs were richer and had a much better taste. However, the richest eggs of all were guinea eggs. Guineas stayed together in a flock, and they all laid in the same nest. It was not unusual to find a guinea nest with 50 eggs in it. When removing those eggs from the nest, you had to use a long-handled spoon or wear gloves, because if you left human scent in or around the nest, the guineas would abandon it. Guinea eggs were a bit smaller than chicken eggs, and the yolks were a deep orange in color. The women folks swore that they were far better to use in cooking pies, cakes and bread.
In those days, along about the time schools closed for summer vacation, around the first of June, it was also time to mow pastures. On our farm, Percy, the man who worked for my daddy for more than 50 years, mowed over 300 acres of our pastures with a pair of mules pulling a cycle mowing machine. He would start mowing on the outer edge of a large pasture, cutting a 10-foot streak, and each complete circle would mow 10 more feet, moving closer to the center of the field until the whole pasture had been mowed.
Percy had, over many years, mowed the pastures so many times that he was so good at it that he made those tall grass pastures look like a manicured golf course. Now understand that, back then, it took much more time to mow pastures with horse or mule-drawn mowing machines than those of today that are pulled by tractors. Back then, mowing pastures, like everything else, moved at a slower, quieter, and more peaceful pace than today. It would take Percy and the mules four or five days to mow one pasture.
As he mowed around and around, each circle drew him closer to the center of the pasture until the un-mowed, tall grass resembled an island in still water. There was something unseen happening. In the tall pasture grass lived a goodly number of small, wild things, such as grasshoppers, field mice, snakes, cotton rats, rabbits and various other creatures. Each complete circle cutting a 10-foot swath made those creatures move closer and closer to the center of that field until there was so little uncut area left that the creatures had to flee, running and bounding across the freshly-cut area. On one occasion, in a pasture bordering Fishing Creek, several large snakes had been forced into the small, uncut part, and when the mower blade cut through that pile of snakes, it was like running a knife through a plate of spaghetti.
Unfortunately and unavoidably, on a rare occasion, the mower blade would disturb a ground-nesting bird’s nest. It happened one late spring day when a lone bobwhite hen quail was flushed from her nest by the approaching mowing machine. Percy stopped the mules and found the quail’s nest holding 12 small white eggs. He called to me to come there, and he told me that she would not come back to her nest because the tall grass protecting it had been mowed down.
I had a pretty good idea of what I should do. I gently placed the eggs in my cap, went to the barn and put them under a chicken that was trying to set on a nest.
–Continued next week.–