What I Learned From Poultry

Remember that old commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature?”  Well, as a young child of about 12, I found out first-hand why you shouldn’t fool Mother Nature.  We had chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks; one of my jobs was to gather the eggs except for the ones that my parents wanted to be left to sit and hatch out babies.  I, being 12 and easily bored, decided it would be interesting to do a little egg switching.  Dumb birds, they couldn’t tell the difference between their eggs and any of the other birds’ eggs, so I put a turkey egg under the momma goose, a duck egg under a momma chicken, snickering to myself every day how dumb these birds were, I mean the momma chicken didn’t notice that the duck egg was three times bigger than hers!

Well, I laughed then, but I got a big payback from Mother Nature after the eggs hatched.  At first, it was just so hilarious to see Momma Chicken with her brood of baby chicks and one baby duck and Momma Goose with her babies including one turkey… but it wasn’t hilarious for long.  I soon discovered that the joke was on me.

When the baby geese got big enough to start going for their swims, baby turkey also went for his swim—big problem since turkeys can’t, and therefore don’t, swim.  My Mother firmly told me that since I was the bright one who put the turkey egg under Momma Goose, it was my responsibility to make sure my “turkey goose” did not drown.  Seems like every time I found something fun or interesting to do, Momma Goose decided it was time for her and the kids to go for a swim.  Off I’d have to go, trekking after them, to the pond, wading in and pulling out Mister Turkey Goose.

While Mister Turkey Goose was little and cute, it was just an inconvenience, but as he grew into full turkey-hood, he got to be rather hard to rescue, not to mention rather mad that I keep pulling him out of the pond every time he and his brother and sister geese went swimming.  For a turkey-goose, he got pretty smart about finding different ways to sneak off when my back was turned, and for a big, fat turkey, he sure could run.  It also apparently really cheesed-off Momma Goose when I wrestled with her turkey boy, cheesed-off to the point that she would start honking, calling the whole goose family—all 16 of them—to her defense.  Being flogged by the entire goose clan, several times each day, had me looking like I had gotten the worst of a bad fight, all the time.

Now, what kid didn’t love any reason to jump in the pond in the middle of the scorching hot summer days?  Me, for one; wrestling with some mad-hatter geese, wallowing in the pond ooze with one big, mad turkey-goose, on those scorching hot days made the smell of pond muck, and wet feathers fairly unpleasant.  Of course, Momma Goose went for more swims on hot days, so most of my twelfth summer was spent running to the pond, pulling out a fighting-mad turkey and being on the wrong end of a flock of mad-geese relatives.  This had become a full-time job, on top of my regular chores, and if I live to be one hundred, I will never forget the sight of this huge turkey wadding out to the middle of the pond, only to sink like a lead brick, time, after time, after time.

I’d be in the middle of milking one of our dairy goats, when I’d see Momma Goose, and family, headed for a swim, so off I’d have to run.  Then when I’d return all muddy and smelly, I’d have to deal with the big mess Miss Goat created while waiting for me to finish milking her.  These messes ranged from tearing open every feed-bag in sight, to eating the radio cord, to leaving out the front door and finding my mother’s favorite flowers to eat or, worse yet, finding all those garden goodies.  Neither of my parents found even an ounce of sympathy for me, in fact, these little mishaps only fueled their lectures about how this was all my fault and all my responsibility, adding more and more things to my list of chores.

When we started haying, it took me three times as long with the drowning turkey trying to go for a swim.  I tried penning Mister Turkey Goose in with some single, good -looking turkey-gals hoping he might find true love with one of them, but no, he did not even like to be near another turkey, instead he fell in love with a young goose-girl, strutting his fully-fanned turkey-butt around her and rubbing his turkey-neck against hers.  Guess what, Miss Goose fell in love with Mister Turkey Goose and they became a pair of lovers who liked to sneak off together for a little skinny-dipping without the goose family, so this meant more trips a day to drag out a big, stinky, mad, male turkey out of the water while a very, very angry Miss-Goose-girlfriend honked, hissed, and flogged me.  Geesh, this was not so funny anymore, in fact, this was just plain sad.  Seemed like the lovers knew when my back was turned for even only a second, they would giggle in their fowl way and head straight for the water.

I must admit that as bad as my summer seemed to turn out, it was better than when cold weather set in.  The water was no longer cool, but downright frigid, the only time I got a break was when the pond was completely frozen-over, but of course, that didn’t last very long since I had to break the ice for the goats and pigs to drink.  Just a small hole in the frozen ice was enough of an opportunity for Mister Turkey Goose to show off to his girlfriend.  He’d just jump right in that hole, feet first, and the promptly began to sink, so here I’d go, pulling out this half frozen, stinking turkey out.  Miss Goose cut me no slack just because it was freezing cold.  Nope, she’d just bite me even harder.  I then had to herd the extremely angry lovers to the barn so Mister Turkey Goose could dry off and warm up, so his little toes didn’t freeze off.

Many times my mother would see the lovebirds headed over the hill, through the snow, to the pond, even when the wind-chill was below zero.  This meant I didn’t have time to dress warmly and run after them, but rather I had to run out into the cold in whatever I was wearing at the time.  I soon began staying fully and warmly dressed during all daylight hours.  My only relief was at night when all the birds, including the lovers, were nestled in and sleeping.  It never mattered if it was pouring buckets and buckets of rain, it never mattered if the snow was blowing.  It never mattered if the wind was howling, wind-chills below zero, and it didn’t even matter when it was too hot to even breathe.  Mister Turkey Goose was more determined than any postal carrier—he did not care what the weather was, he always was ready to head to the pond for a dip.

When Saturdays rolled around, that was my chance to go to town, but before I could go, I had to corral Mister Turkey Goose and his lovely Missus into their small fenced-in pen.  When I suggested to my folks that we should leave them in their small pen all the time, I was informed that while penning the two up for a short time was acceptable, to keep them constantly penned-up in their small yard, was just cruel.  And maybe the next time I decided to fool with Mother Nature, I would remember this valuable lesson.

My social life was impacted dramatically; sleepovers were few and far between unless my friends were staying here with me.  Seldom could I talk my mom or dad into turkey-sitting for me so I could go off and have fun.  My sidekick and partner in crime, Lonesome, the Bassett Hound, couldn’t understand why we didn’t get to run through the fields chasing bunnies as often, or head off to the woods to spend a cool day by the creek.  Nor do I think she ever understood why I would chase that dumb turkey and why wrestling that turkey in the smelly pond mud was what, to her, seemed like my new favorite thing to do.  But like the faithful buddy she was, she was always with me, although more than a few times she would look at me with her head cocked to one side, a bewildered look on her face.

Now, let us not forget there is also a duck who believes he is a chicken that I had to contend with.  Mister Chicken Duck, or “Chuck”, was not as much trouble as Mister Turkey Goose, but he had his problems, too.  For one, he would pick fights with the big, bad, mean rooster who was boss over all the chickens.  Mister Chuck, while tough in his own mind, was no match for a big, cocky rooster with sharp, deadly spurs and the knowledge of how to use them.  My parents again explained to me that since this was my “joke” it was my job to keep Mister Chuck from fighting and getting hurt.  Yeah, that was an easy one… NOT!  Mister Chuck soon found himself a lovely chick of his own and felt the need to always protect her from the roosters, which meant constantly picking fights.  The fighting was almost nonstop during egg laying time, how ironic was that?  And while egg-laying time for Miss Goose and Mister Turkey Goose meant less swimming time, Mister Chuck picked up any slack with his fighting.

As a sort of peace gesture for Mother Nature, I slipped some chicken eggs under Mister Chucks’ woman so they could hatch out a family and I slipped some goose eggs under Miss Goose so her and Mister Turkey Goose could also have a family.  While these gestures may or may not have won me any points with Mother Nature, it did win a few points with my Dad.  He offered to help me build a big, nice pen for Miss Goose and Mister Turkey Goose and family, building them a cement pond.  Big enough for the entire family, including Mister Turkey Goose, but shallow enough that he couldn’t drown.  Mister Turkey Goose lived happily as a goose for 8 years while Missus Goose lived to the ripe old age of 11 years, but she never found another boyfriend, her heart belonged to a goofy turkey who thought he was a goose.  Mister Chuck lived a good long life with his significant other, learning eventually to steer clear of the rooster bullies, so very rarely did he encounter the Boss Rooster’s angry spurs.

At the ripe old age of 12 years, I learned one of life’s most valuable lessons, which was: think twice about your actions and the consequences that might come from them; what might seem funny could possibly end up biting you in the butt.

I also learned that old commercial about fooling Mother Nature was right on, maybe there weren’t any lightning bolts flying thru the sky, but there were much worse consequences from fooling her: Mother Nature turned out to be a lot like karma—a bitch when poked.  Another lesson I learned was, in the animal families, looks didn’t matter, family is family even if your kid looks like the neighbor more than yourself, it is still your little baby.  None of the brothers and sisters ever doubted whether they were related or not—if you were hatched with the bunch, you were one of them.  Finally, love is blind.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t look like the rest of the flock, it’s how you see yourself that the ladies will see you.  Believe you’re a young, handsome goose who can swim, the girls will believe you’re a handsome goose.  Even if you’re a duck who could never crow, if you believe you’re a chicken and you scratch with the chickens, the hens will find you irresistible.


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