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Irons in the fire: A tangled web of chicken feathers

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 March 2017

Last spring, my wife and I proudly attended the commencement exercises at Utah State University, where our second daughter graduated magna cum laude with a double major in political science and some sort of social work.

She is now well on her way to earning her masters degree. There is no doubt that higher education has suited her well. There was a time, however, when I had to wonder exactly where her scholastic endeavors would take her.

A couple of years before she transferred to the school south of the border, which is what the Idaho-Utah line is to us Idahoans, my daughter was enrolled in school at a fine university in eastern Idaho. In her third or fourth semester, she was partnered up with an eclectic group of roommates from parts of the country as disparate as central Florida, eastern Idaho and southern California.

Though the members of the group came from differing backgrounds, as unfamiliar to each other as a ranch girl from southern Idaho and a vegetarian from Irvine, California, could possibly be, the mesh and tapestry that is the college experience bound them together, and they formed some solid and lasting friendships.

One early spring day, a couple of my daughter’s roommates accompanied her to the farm and ranch store outside of town. (I think I may have asked her to check out the price of green eartags, since I was running out of tags and calving season was in full swing.)

At the back of the store, on the aisle across from the chicken feed and salt blocks, was a display of baby chicks and ducks. Of course, the city girls fell in love with the cute, fuzzy little darlings.

Against the warnings of my daughter, who years long hence had abandoned her infatuation with feathery fowl when it was her job to feed the chickens and gather the eggs, a pair of the city-bred college girls went back to the store the next day and returned home with three baby chicks and a cute little yellow duck.

Never mind that it was entirely against the rules of their housing contract to keep any sort of animals in the house – it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to recognize the beginning of a bad ending.

After about a week, the cuteness of the little critters began to wear off, a fact that, not surprisingly, coincided with the not-so-pleasant aroma that emanated from the miniature chicken farm.

The executives of the newly formed poultry co-op moved the smelly conglomeration to a makeshift cardboard pen in the yard behind the house – which was a fine idea until the neighbor’s cat discovered that Colonel Sanders had set up shop next door. The flock was thinned after the first night.

Then, while the So-Cali semi-vegetarian roommate, who was most in love with the birds, was away for the weekend, the remaining girls decided on a plan of action to exit the poultry business. Early on in the adventure, they had discussed taking the critters to the university’s animal science facilities outside of town, but Miss California vetoed the idea because she was sure what the fate of the fowl would be.

In light of the objections, my daughter told her friend that she would arrange for my son, who was also attending the same school, to take the chickens home to the ranch, where they would live out their existence in a blissful, free-roaming rural paradise.

Though this was never my daughter’s true intention, it met with the approval of all invested parties. So, shortly after the roommate’s weekend departure, my daughter arranged with some animal science students to take ownership of the poultry farm – no questions asked. Problem solved.

A week or so later, my wife was visiting my daughter at school and decided to treat the girls to lunch. In the course of the dinner conversation, Miss California innocently and anxiously inquired of my wife as to the welfare of her feathered friends.

My wife, knowing nothing of my daughter’s scheme, began to pull the string that would unravel the whole plot. As my daughter kicked her mother under the table, she relayed the story of how her brother was supposed to have delivered the chickens to us when he had gone home for the weekend to help brand.

My wife immediately called her negligent son and gave him a verbal whipping via voicemail. How could he be so careless as to leave those poor chickens in the trunk of his car? It would serve him right if his car now smelled like the dead pile after a bad scours year. After a few days, and a couple of confusing conversations, the light of truth shone on the “Poultrygate” scandal.

It has been a few years now, and I don’t think my now-educated (college and otherwise) daughter has told even the smallest of white lies since then. She is a firm proponent of always telling the truth and never counting your chickens before … well, you get the idea.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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