person feeding white chicken outdoor

Volunteered For Chicken Duty

Welcome to M.I.A. (AKA “Marriage is Awesome), the place where I thoroughly piss off my wife by discussing the finer details of our lives together. In this edition, we talk about how wives volunteer to do things and then skip town so their husbands have to do it.

I am many things. I am a husband, a father, a marketing guy, a storyteller, a jokester, a damn good parallel parker and a guy who played on a basketball team that lost 135-3.

What I am not is a farmer. I left my suburban NY home when I graduated high school and went to college in Iowa and was somehow surprised to meet people who actually grew up on farms. This isn’t to say I didn’t realize that some form of human being was necessary to do the things that needed to be done on a farm. I’d just met precious few of them in my life.

Which is why there’s a great deal of irony that, in a few short days, I will be tasked with the responsibility of keeping roughly 20 chickens alive for 24 hours.

How this responsibility fell to me is somewhat of a whirlwind. Boy The Younger has become friends with a kid down the street — and when I say “down the street,” this is down a rural street, which means it’s about a mile away. Said friend — Michael, if you’re keeping score — comes from a family of five children and, evidently, roughly 20 chickens.

We have benefited from the efforts of said chickens a few times — or at least the fertility of said chickens. That human beings consume the undeveloped babies of chickens is one of those things that astounds me because that means someone somewhere at some point in our evolution either saw an egg emerge from a chicken or found one on the ground and somehow figured out that it tastes pretty damn good if you dump what’s inside in a pan over heat for a few minutes.

That doesn’t stop me from enjoying a good omelet, mind you.

I think about these kind of things. It’s adjacent to my thoughts on how the hell someone figured out that the entirely disgusting individual ingredients that combine to make cake actually combine to make cake — and it’s not lost on me that eggs are part of that equation too.

Anyway, back to the chickens.

Michael’s parents, whom until yesterday afternoon I had never met, are taking the children — but not the chickens — on a vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks. They leave Thursday and come back Sunday. Evidently, there’s no kennel for chickens. There are neighbors. And Carla being Carla, she was more than happy to volunteer to help out her new friend, Holly.

She then proceeded to plan a vacation for her and our boys to North Carolina to visit my parents, a vacation that, for several reasons, I cannot attend. And the chickens thank God for that because the chickens ain’t gonna take care of themselves. In a great marital slight-of-hand trick, all of a sudden, I became responsible for caring for these chickens from Thursday evening through Friday night, when my own brood is scheduled to return. Then it becomes Jonah’s responsibility — if I somehow manage to keep these chickens alive for 24 hours.

“Jesus, John. They’re chickens, not human premie babies in the NICU. How hard can this be?”

Harder than I thought it was going to be before I went over to meet Holly, her husband, Mike (who, side note, has an awesome beard) and the chickens. I thought my duties would involve a poultry version of dog-sitting. I’d have to go over, throw some food in their general direction, make sure their water bowl was filled, maybe pat a chicken or two on the head (do chickens play fetch?) and I’d be back home on my couch in five minutes.


Four Fun Facts I Learned About These Chickens.

  1. These are free-range chickens. Now, I had heard that term before. You probably have too. But do you know that means that, in the morning, I have to go over and open the door to the coop Mike built (mad props, bro) and that these chickens scatter like my sons did when I would ask them to help me clean out the garage? Yeah. Me neither. When we were there yesterday learning how to care for the chickens, there was nary a chicken in sight. When Holly mentioned the chickens, she casually waved her hands to the tree line a hundred yards away. I guess that’s where they were. Now, I was infinitely curious what the hell goes on in a chicken brain that, armed with (admittedly crappy — but tasty) wings, these chickens could be let out of their prison cell and not just fly the hell away. Yes, I know that Holly and Mike (and, presumably, the children) feed these things, and they seem like really friendly people (although they did tell me how they’d just butchered 38 “meat chickens” that weekend). But it’s not as if chickens have highly selective diets. The world is their buffet. So while I was happy to hear that these chickens could enjoy the Missourah countryside as I like to do, I still was wondering why they stuck around. Then I learned …
  2. They make amazing targets for predators. And predators are freaking everywhere out here in the country. I have with my own two eyes seen a fox and a racoon. I have used my ears to catch the calls of coyotes. There are rumors of a cougar in the general vicinity. And I’m pretty sure there’s a Missouri Bigfoot wandering around the woods out there. (Hey Momo) These chickens are going to be my responsibility, so now I feel obligated to spend the night out there in a lawn chair with, at minimum, a fully loaded shotgun and a flamethrower by my side.
  3. I get free eggs! Now, I don’t know if Holly and Mike intend to pay Jonah for his time when he’s the one in charge of these chickens, but I sure as hell don’t expect or want them to pay me. Their boy is my boy’s friend. Holly is my wife’s friend. Mike seems like a great guy to have a beer with over a bucket of KFC. That’s good enough for me to travel a mile up the road a few times over the course of 24 hours. But when Holly was telling me about my duties, she mentioned collecting the chicken’s eggs. “Coolio,” thought I. “I’m sure they will give me a house key or something so I can put them in their fridge.” No! Holly said these chickens are going to lay anywhere from five to eight eggs — and that I can take them home! And you know what that means? It’s breakfast for dinner on Friday night! But first …
  4. Hens can be bitches. One of the first things I learned about these particular chickens is that one, at the moment, was being “broody.” I was prepared to nod my head and then go home and google exactly what that meant, but Carla piped up and asked the question: “What does that mean?” She has much less fear of appearing dumb than I do, evidently. We learned together (although I tried to play it cool and appear as if I’d known what I’m about to write since birth) that it means that the hen’s hormones are running afoul (see what I did there?) and that she has taken to sitting on her eggs and being kind of a bitch when you want her to get off. This proves to me that, despite generations of us breaking their hearts daily by stealing their undeveloped babies — for food! — chickens have retained something of a maternal instinct. That made me happy. But when Holly popped open a door to the coop — and seriously, Mike, that thing is freaking amazing; it’s like Hogwarts for chickens — there was a rather pissed-off looking hen who was giving off a vibe of “I ain’t movin’ for nobody.” True to the vibe, when Holly’s hand neared the hen, the thing emitted a sound I heretofore had never associated with chickens. “See what I mean?” Holly said. Indeed I did. Holly than assured me that if the hen was still acting broody, she would be locked away in a different coop in the garage (solitary confinement, bitch!) — which made me sad because, hey, she was just being a good momma, but also happy because I didn’t feel like having my eyes pecked out by a chicken.

Holly and Mike did a great job of telling us how to take care of their birds. They even set a good low bar for us and told us that, should we show up and find a dead chicken (presumably killed by Bigfoot), that’s not a big deal and that I should just throw it off into a particular place in the woods (presumably the place where sacrifices are offered to the chicken gods). I’m not so sure how OK they’d be if I showed up and, say, twenty birds were dead. But I’m not goin’ there.

Then the four of my family got back into our vehicle, and I started the car to get the air condition running.

“I don’t know about you,” I said, “But I feel thoroughly unprepared to take care of these chickens.”

Please know … that’s not Holly’s fault. She did an amazing job of teaching us how to tend to her birds. It’s just that, well, she seemed to be under the impression that I’m, like, competent in this area. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, just that previous week, Jonah had been away at his cousin’s house and I had forgotten to feed his pet fish (Greg) for two days. Two days! Do you know what can happen to chickens neglected for two days? Neither do I! But I’m pretty sure it’s really, really bad.

Folks, let me tell you this: There aren’t a lot of 12- and 13-year-old boys in this area. There aren’t a lot of people period in this area. That Jonah has a kid down the street — even if it is a mile away — whom he gets along with and who isn’t part of a family of banjo-strummin’ Missourahns who want me to squeal like a piggy is a miracle. I don’t want to destroy that friendship because I am so horrible at chicken-sitting that the family returns to an empty (but still f’n awesome) chicken coop.

I’m on duty in roughly 96 hours.

John Agliata is a married father of three boys, Jacob (in heaven), Joey and Jonah. They have a bulldog named Luna and a fish named Greg. Carla and John have been married for 25 years, and he’s totally down to do whatever Carla promises she’d do.

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