Death of a Humble Chicken

My thoughts about dead chickens mostly revolve around whether I want their deep-fried corpses from Bojangles or Chick-fil-a.  Ages ago, we learned that butchering your own chickens is for the birds, so to speak. It would take us hours to skin and pluck a single rooster, and the carcass was usually so stringy that it tasted more like my grandmother’s cross-stitch than her fried chicken.

After a few feeble attempts at self-reliance in the early years, we soon gave up and ceded control of our dietary poultry intake back to the fast food professionals. That was terrible news for my cholesterol, but really good news for the chickens on our farm, many of whom would live long and prosper in our pastures until a fox, hawk, or owl brought their prosperity to a quick and often violent end. 

But this past week we actually had a chicken die of old age. It was about as graceful and peaceful of a death as I can possibly imagine for a chicken. The chicken just became less and less mobile over a course of a couple months, but it never seemed to be in much pain. Mostly, it would just sit around and watch the other chickens coming and going, and strangely the other chickens didn’t bother it either (chickens can usually be quite cruel to other chickens that are showing weakness). Everyday, it would grow a little weaker until it finally stopped eating and drinking early this week. The eight-year-old hen just sat and watched, surrounded by her flock, until she finally closed her eyes and breathed her last. It reminded me a lot of the Dowager Countess’s death in Downton Abbey, a Hollywood ending for a humble chicken. In the end it got me thinking there are a lot worse ways to die than being at home surrounded by family, especially for a chicken. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugh

Some farmers have all the luck. They can get a good hailstorm right when they need it most. I’ve been waiting for a good hailstorm for years to replace the roof on our barn and farmhouse, but all I get is piddly little hail pellets and enough wind to rip the barn door off, not the barn roof. And, of course, the cost to replace the barn door doesn’t even meet the insurance deductible, so there is no point filing a claim. 

The barn door continued my string of ugh luck–not bad luck, not good, just ugh. A few days earlier my tractor broke down again. I’m pretty sure the safety sensor that prevents the tractor from starting in gear has gone bad again. Luckily, it’s a cheap part to replace. Unluckily, it requires you to remove the shifters and shift cover and afterwards put it back on in the same configuration, a maneuver that requires either x-ray vision or much craning of the neck, false hope, despair, and curse words.

Speaking of curse words, I never knew my wife had such an extensive vocabulary until I overcooked a meatloaf a few days ago, continuing my string of ugh luck. By overcooked I mean even the fire extinguisher residue was crispy. I must say, during the actual panic to locate a working fire extinguisher (the first extinguisher underneath the kitchen sink was so antiquated it barely mustered a wisp of retardant), she remained quite calm while confronting the very real possibility that the remains of our house would soon be ash floating through the atmosphere. Thankfully, after a short ransacking of the junk in our closet, I was able to quickly locate our second extinguisher, at which point I handed it off to her to wield, all while I charged headfirst into danger and risked sacrificing myself, not to mention my eyebrows, by cracking open the oven the door enough for her to blast the leaping flames. Needless to say, the meatloaf did not survive. But we did save our house from a fiery doom, so I guess my luck these days isn’t all bad. Plus, we ended up having Chic-Fil-a that night, which is probably better than my meatloaf would have been anyway.

Dear Beekeepers of the World

Please be advised this is official correspondence from the duly-elected leadership of the supreme species EENDT”CHA, known in your human parlance as Varroa destructor–a.k.a. varroa, the mite, the little red pinprick of horror, the scourge of hives and destroyer of beekeepers’ souls. 

This letter hereby notifies you that we will not stop our conquest for world domination. We have now invaded Australia in our quest to colonize every bee hive on planet Earth. Our spread knows no bounds; wherever bees go, we will follow, even if it takes us to the ice cliffs of Antarctica or the cold craters of the moon. We will not relent. 

As the last four decades have proven, your efforts to eradicate us are futile. Although we do admire and respect the ferocity with which some humans have fought against the proliferation of our superior species, we now demand that you lay down your primitive oxalic acid wands and chemical concoctions and surrender your bees to us. 

The time of human domination of Apis Mellifera is over. No more will humans plunder bee hives and rob honey. No more will bees be under the subjugation of a species with merely two legs. How foolish you were for resisting–you pitiful soft-bodied species with no exoskeleton! (that said, we did appreciate the powdered sugar dusting fad that happened about ten years ago–hey, we mites like sweets as much as the next species). 

All beekeepers who lay down smokers now and give up will face no further consequences. All who resist will meet heartbreak and despair, as we are now immune to your once most lethal concoction, Amitraz. Indeed, it is now impossible for you to withstand the rate of our proliferation. Before long there will be more varroa mites on Earth than all bipeds combined. You would be wise to give up your efforts to breed mite-resistant bees, which are doomed to failure, and instead use your oversized craniums to surrender now. 

If you do wisely decide to wave the white bee glove of surrender, our leadership will gladly accept it, on behalf of our great arachnid species, with all the formal protocol that such a momentous occasion deserves, namely that of your leadership bowing down and presenting their ceremonial hive tools. 

On behalf of all worldwide members of Varroa destructor, we await your prompt response. 


The Supreme Senate of Varroa Mite Mothers

[P.S. If you’re a not a beekeeper, I apologize because this probably makes no sense. However, if you are beekeeper, it probably wouldn’t hurt to check your mite levels. I just checked a few of my hives last week and levels were off the charts. Since it was so hot, I did a half-dose formic pro. We will see how well that brings the levels down.]

Happy National Intern Day! (a.k.a You’re Getting Old Day)

It has come to my attention that I’m getting old. This revelation occurred to me while I was conversing with our summer intern at the agriculture office. Starting next month, he will be a sophomore at NC State University. Despite his enrollment in a premier institution of higher learning (I also attended NC State), he confessed that he cannot write in cursive. 

“How do you take notes in class?” I asked.

“Laptop–nobody takes notes on paper anymore,” he said, with a sense of bewilderment, as if paper was as antiquated as papyrus.

“Do you have textbooks?” I asked.

“Well, kinda, we have e-textbooks,” he said.

Oh, I miss the days of tangible tomes–you know those big heavy textbooks that could be repurposed as an anchor once they’re out of date. Sadly, kids these days will never know the pure joy of getting assigned a used textbook that already has the answers written in it. Nor will their back muscles develop adequately. I swear the backpacks in our day had their own gravitational pull, and likely weighed more than the kids wearing them. Nowadays the only reason kids wear backpacks is to advertise for North Face; they certainly don’t use them to lug around textbooks and Trapper Keepers. 

FYI: The intern didn’t know what Trapper Keepers were either. I had to explain to him that Trapper Keepers were basically overpriced folders, in which middle school boys stuffed all their papyrus; meanwhile, middle school girls used them to neatly organize and catalog their correspondence, that is the notes that were passed back and forth on the information superhighway, also known as the back row in class. 

It makes me sad that kids these days never experience the excitement of passing notes, of making shadow puppets in the overhead projector, of playing pencil break and paper football, of piloting paper airplanes that fly straight and true. 

Now, with only electrons used for learning, school sounds a lot less electrifying.


Who knew

she’d take to chickens

like she did— 

mere chickens?

(Oh, to hear her unabashed calls

“Chickens! chick, 

chick, chick—ons!”

to see her care for them 

and them, apparently, for her,

and to know even the old rooster

respects her).