BLACKIE

I grew up on a dairy farm during World War II. We produced and preserved most of our food–meat, fruit, vegetables, milk and butter. This bit of memoir begins about 1941 and ends about 1952.

Blackie, the Hen

Blackie came to live in our hen house when I was about nine years old. She was the only black hen among the flock of red ones.

Each spring Dad and Mom went to Wilbur Parsons’ Hatchery in town to buy a hundred Red Hampshire chicks. While they chatted with Mr. Parsons, who was also my school bus driver, I wandered around the hatchery looking at all the peeping baby chickens on long tray tables. Nearly all of them, regardless of the color they would be when they were hens, were yellow. There were, however a few trays of fluffy black ones.

Noticing that I admired the little black ones, Mr. Parsons tucked one tiny black chick in among the yellow ones that my parents were buying. I immediately named her Blackie.

In preparation for the new chicks, Dad had built eight small coops in a fenced plot. At the time we did not have a brooder to keep the young chicks warm.

That evening as the sun set and the hens began to settle down, Mom, who usually took care of the chickens, chose eight “setting hens,” which were those trying to hide eggs for hatching chicks. With no rooster in the henhouse to fertilize them, their efforts would only have produced rotten eggs. Mom, wise to them, carefully checked their nests each day for eggs.

Mom and Dad took the setting hens off their nests to the fenced yard to introduce them to a small flock of baby chicks, hoping the mother instinct exhibited by “setting” on the nest would come alive. Most often it did and the hen would gather the chicks, adopt them as her own, and cuddle them under her warm wings in her assigned coop. Sometimes a hen turned obstinate and would have nothing to do with those chicks. Then Mom would replace her with a more cooperate one.

With my pleading, Blackie and a few others that for some reason didn’t seem strong enough to go into the coops, stayed warm next to our wood burning kitchen stove for a couple of days. The only risk they faced was that one of our cats on hearing the “cheep, cheep” of the chicks might somehow manage to get into the covered box for a tender treat.

Blackie was finally integrated with the rest of the chicks and grew to an adult hen. Any chicks that crowed, instead of clucked, became slated for the dining room table. Blackie turned out to be an excellent laying hen and easily spotted in the flock of red hens. Gradually the Hampshire Reds were replaced with more black ones and I couldn’t identify her from the others, although Mom could.

Blackie continued to be a productive hen and laid eggs until the end of her life. Her doom came when she was an old lady of ten years. The flock had diminished to only a dozen hens–too few to keep themselves warm through the winter months in the large hen house. Fortunately, I was away at college when the remainder of the flock met with their fate. Plucked, butchered, and frozen, it was impossible to identify Blackie from the others in the freezer. Blackie must have been a “tough old bird.” I don’t know, but it may have taken longer for her to become tender enough for dinner with Mom’s fresh and flaky baking powder biscuits and gravy shared with company for Sunday dinner.

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