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Randy's Ramblings: There's a lot to be learned from raising chickens

On warm summer mornings, I often awoke to the sound of cans clanging in Bud Pedersen's milkhouse across the street.

During the evening milking, an occasional beller would come through the open barn doors. A bossy was anxious to have her udder relieved -- or for her serving of silage.

I grew up listening to the music of the farm on the other side of Butternut Avenue in the village of Luck. The sporadic putt-putt-putt of tractors, the clanking of the hay elevator and the mooing of our four-hooved neighbors were all part of the symphony.

So I bring some bias to the hopefully concluded discussion in the town of Hudson over whether chickens -- more specifically roosters -- should be allowed on residential property.

On Sept. 6, the town board held a public hearing on a proposal to ban roosters from parcels of less than three acres in size. A resident of Tanney Lane reportedly had complained about the crowing of a rooster that was part of a neighbor kid's 4-H project.

One thing led to another, and before you knew it, Foghorn Leghorn's neck was on the chopping block. One person's music is the next person's noise.

Hudson Town Board Chair Jeff Johnson discovered the growing popularity of raising chickens at the public hearing.

All the pews in the town hall were full, Johnson told me in a phone call last week. He assumed people were there to weigh in on the controversial Booster ball fields issue.

Then speaker after speaker rose to the chickens' defense.

Near the end of the hearing, Johnson asked for a show of hands from audience members who had chickens.

"Just about every one of them raised their hand," Johnson told me. "I said, well, all right, I think the best idea we had is not to change this thing. We'll just keep allowing it."

"So it was a learning experience," he added. "It was learning about how so many people are raising chickens out in the town."

Johnson is hoping most chicken owners will be reasonable, and take measures to quiet a rooster that crows at 5 o'clock in the morning. I would guess that will require locking them in the coop until a reasonable hour.

It all brings to mind one of my favorite childhood memories.

My dad pastored a small Assembly of God church (no longer there) at the corner of Main Street and Butternut Avenue in Luck.

Church members, many of them country folk, would often provide us with vegetables from their gardens and meat from freshly slaughtered animals. One day, Mrs. Pigman called and asked my mom if she would like a couple of chickens.

Mom said sure, and was surprised to be presented with a pair of live roosters in a gunny sack the following Sunday.

I pleaded for their lives to be spared. It being the spring of the year, Mom and Dad relented.

That summer was a learning experience for me. I discovered that if you blow your nose on the ground a rooster will eat the snot.

Ours were free-range chickens. Dad would sometimes have to hose the chicken poop off the church sidewalks on Sunday mornings. He should have bounced me out of bed and to do it.

The roosters roosted in the row of willow trees between the parsonage and the swamp. The willows were maybe 25 feet from my upstairs bedroom window. I learned about those 5 o'clock in the morning cock-a-doodle-doos.

In mid-summer, one of the roosters went missing. Mom was telling Mrs. Johnson about it over the phone when Mrs. Johnson said, "That's funny, a chicken has been running around our house the past couple of days."

It turns out the wayward rooster went home with the Johnsons after prayer meeting on Wednesday night. He made the five-mile trip to the other side of Milltown in the undercarriage of the Johnsons' car.

At the end of the summer, I was surprised to learn that my parents had planned only a temporary reprieve for our roosters. Both Mom and Dad were farm-reared, and had plenty of experience moving chickens from the yard to the plate.

I was a 10- or 12-year-old boy and had mixed feelings watching Dad stretch the roosters' necks across a block of wood and chop off their heads with an axe. One made a final run for it -- headless.

There was nothing amusing about the executions to my younger sisters, who didn't witness them. They cried at the last supper in disbelief that my father -- whom they worshipped -- would commit such an act, and then expect us to eat our pets.

Mom got off easier, even though she had plucked the birds and put them in the frying pan.

I don't know what the moral of this story is, but I'm glad youngsters of all ages in the town of Hudson can continue to experience the joys of rearing chickens. It's earthy, that's for sure.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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