The Saga Of Henrietta Hen

Jerry Martin

© Copyright 2002 by Jerry Martin

The story begins when we were living the city life in Houston, Texas in the late '70s and I always had a hankering to return to the farm life I knew as a little boy. I was a devout disciple of the "Mother Earth News Magazine." They published many articles how to do things from scratch, getting away from the city life and building your own everything from log homes, raising your own food and the good old healthy life in general.

I was getting the back-to nature fever bad so I went to the local feed store not far away and bought some romantic rabbits, a buck and a doe and several baby chickens to bring back home. I don't think there is nothing cuter than a baby duck or chicken. I had four or five chicks and we would watch them tumble around the yard scratching here and peck there and we would feed them oatmeal and some corn meal and let them peck it out of our hands. When we had to leave them or do something else we would gather them up and put them in a spacious cardboard box and leave it in our garage overnight away from any prowling neighborhood cats and dogs. These little fowls were of the Leghorn variety, white, getting up to four or five pounds and are good egg layers.

The family and I played with the little birds taking delight in hearing their cheeping and scurrying after a insect they could overpower. I always thought chickens looked very funny scrambling after a grasshopper or such with their beaks wide open and looking completely off balance racing at a breakneck speed to devour their prey without tumbling head over claws. These little birds did their best to clear our yard of unwanted insects. Eating a piece of grass here and there for a change of diet.

Having the little birds eat out of your hands was amusing at first but as they was maturing their little pecks grew into noticeable full blown, serious, spearing joists and a piece of your hand was just another morsel if they could manage it. If a chicken had a brain I would greatly doubt if it had anything in it except the programming to eat, drink, sleep, reproduce and poop.

Chickens have absolutely no love or affection except to come running at a alarming speed at you if you happen to venture out side eating something and then they are led like a pied piper would lead his captives. They become disciples.

I have to take a moment to relate a story of my boyhood on one of my Uncles place on a chicken farm. They had chickens caged and countless chickens roaming their place at will. I don't think there was a blade of grass left anywhere within a half-mile, because the chickens ate everything that was in their way. Well ol' Uncle had a rooster who was mean as a bobcat and even the hounds and cats that lazed around the place stayed out of his way.

In those days houses were elevated somewhat being built up on blocks of concrete and most birds and animals that could, would scoot under the house in the heat of the day and rest in the shade. Uncle and Aunt would warn us about this rooster and said don't get around him especially if you have something to eat. The rooster relished cookies.

He hung around the house a lot seeking such a opportunity. When visiting, kind auntie would pass out cookies to all the children present for a little after dinner dessert.

We didn't get many sweets in those days and we would nurse a cookie until every speck of it was devoured. being delighted we got one at all. We could make a cookie last for a hour or so. We, the boys would be conniving mischief always and we would venture out and get the roosters attention and he would see what we was eating and become quite aggressive demanding his share of tribute. He was determined to get all if not a scrap of a cookie.

Many of us kids were around six years old and the boys could outrun the rooster, but the little girls were to timid and quivered in the house. We would ease out the front door, get the roosters attention, waving our cookie, teasing the bird with a few na, na, naas and the race was on. The brave lad would tear around to the back of the house screaming for someone to open the back screen door.

If the boy didn't find someone holding the door open for him, the first time, another lap would ensue. The shrieking child would be hollering out his instructions for an adult to show mercy and open the door on his next lap around. We all watched the race with great interest.

Showing mercy, a amused adult would open the door to permit a gasping child to come barreling in the entrance with the rooster not far behind, head and neck out stretched determined to get a piece of cookie or a boys rear end. The rooster out of frustration would attack the screen door and put up a big flurry of squawks and feathers.

Of course the wheezing, grinning lad would stand up and proclaim, "See, I told you I could outrun that rooster."

Now the rooster didn't forget those things. He also had a habit of sneaking up on anyone who was eating something, snatch it out of their hand and race off to devour it unmolested. When we was thinking the rooster was out back waiting for his tormenter we would go out the front door to see if we could stir the bird up some more only to find he had snuck around the other side of the house and come charging at us from the rear. We scattered like quail screaming "every man for himself." We would race for cars, barn, hide behind trees or anything else to give us safety until the rooster cooled down.

But still, being empty headed little kids, sometimes we would forget about the rooster, being absorbed in our games of the day. A smaller toddler would come outside making the mistake of forgetting about the rooster, come on out into the yard where the other children were playing, not being noticed by the older children.

The rooster noticed. Little by little the rooster eased up closer and closer, pausing long enough to make like he was pecking something interesting on the ground and look innocent. The smaller toddler was watching his peers play, nibbling on his cookie and then without warning the rooster sprang with flailing wings, squawking, stirring up dust and frightening the child so bad he would drop his cookie and that was the roosters objective. With a rapid "snap", the rooster had his cookie prize and ran away in the midst of a hail of small missiles that we were throwing at him.

We also noticed that the little lad who had been robbed by the rooster, got another cookie to shut up his bellowing. So when the opportunity presented itself and I received a cookie, I would go around the side of the barn, gobble it down and run back howling that mean old rooster took my cookie away from me and get another. I learned to wheedle at a early age. My elders did catch on pretty fast, especially when my cousins saw me get away with it and copied me.

Oh well, it was a great scheme for a while.

I think I heard my Uncle got tired of this roosters brazenness and ate him.

Turn about is fair play. Now back to the city birds. Our little chicks were growing fast, having plenty to eat as we always gave them any left over table scraps, stale bread, and anything else they could find. It appeared these birds could not be filled up. No matter how much garbage we left out, the next day the area would be as clean as a Marine barracks on inspection day.

Don't get the idea that chickens are clean animals because they are not. I built a little roost and a bird house in the back yard but they refused to spend the night in it preferring the garage where they left their nasty droppings everywhere. UGH!

I got tired of washing out the garage on my precious weekends off only to have it befouled the next day. I started locking them out hoping they would go to their birdhouse. Nope! They wasn't going to have any part of it. Come nighttime and the birds were sleepy and now made their bed by the back door, inside a little walkway to stand in, protecting the entering person from rain. Now they were defiling this area. I tried to make the birds feel unwelcome there but going out when they were really snoozing comfortably, snuggled up to each other. With a broom I would sweep them out into the yard amid much protesting and squawking.

Then I would go to bed hoping they would go to their birdhouse. The next morning would find evidence that the birds had came back and left their disgusting calling cards. Sigh! Why did I want chickens?

Eventually, we started getting eggs from these little ladies and no rooster was around either. I always thought a rooster had to get things started but I guess not. These eggs thrilled us.

Not all was well with the birds though. Some of the more adventuresome neighborhood dogs had learned to open their chain-link fence gates and roamed the neighborhood at will. These dogs always infuriated me because they pooped where they darn well felt like it, but never in their yards. I sniped more than one dog in my neighborhood. Being fortunate that I was never caught. Putting a small balloon over the end of a .22 rifle cuts down the "CRACK' a great deal. "Plop!" One less dog pile in my yard.

Apparently one night when the chickens were all hunkered down in their corner sleeping away, a stray dog came by and opened my gate and before anyone could do anything he killed three of my little birds. One was wounded but survived. the dog got away.

Dogs kill for the fun of it as I had this happen two times with my rabbits and one time with a little hamster we had left in the back yard. They don't eat what they kill, they just like to kill.

We named this surviving bird Henrietta Hen. Chickens are not loving or friendly at all and usually only venture close if they see you eating something or think they are going to get something to eat. Henrietta was no different and the only time one could pet her was when you quickly reached out and caught her off guard.

Chickens are weary creatures. Their attitude is, you don't touch me and I don't touch you. Once in a while we would grab Henrietta with much protesting from her and settle her down with gentle talking and soothing caresses. When you think she was enjoying it and making her contented, purring, chicken noises, she would leap to freedom and run away.

Sometimes, on her terms, if someone was lounging on a recliner in the backyard she would come by a hanging hand and walk under it allowing her back to be stroked, but she was always ready to jump away if you made a sudden movement. If she really liked someone and they were sitting in a lounge in the yard, she would actually leap up on their shoulder and perch there contently purring her quiet, peaceful chicken clucks.

My friends didn't care to have a chicken on their shoulder though and that resulted in some protesting. When we made the move to the country, we took Henrietta, my rabbits and now four bee hives. I had the suspicion my neighbors were glad to see me go.


Things were going well and a neighbor up the road had been raising fighting cocks and had more chickens than he wanted. He gave me half of his flock of game hens, but I didn't have a rooster. He wouldn't give me one of his fighting cocks as he sold them for a goodly sum. I didn't want to raise them anyway.

I just wanted some fresh eggs and chicken dishes. I got them too. Now what could go wrong raising chickens. Oh, if I only knew. When chickens are contented and at peace they lay eggs all over the place but then chickens have a lot of enemies that like fresh eggs and chicken also.

Another neighbor sold me a big white rooster for three dollars. I assumed it was a breed like Henrietta because he was white. But he was big. I took the rooster home and tossed him out of my truck to introduce him to his harem of fighting chickens and Henrietta. Now compared to the other birds, Henrietta was big also. I didn't take long for the rooster to establish who was King rooster and set about servicing all the other chickens with great gusto. All except Henrietta.

I found that strange that the rooster would rapidly pounce on the other chickens doing what he was supposed to do but Henrietta wanted to mate so bad, she would literally squat in front of him only to be ignored. The rooster would ignore her walking off with a sneer of disgust, kicking dirt at her face. Poor Henrietta. She never had any babies. She tried to stay as close to the rooster as she could only to be scorned. I think if a bird could cry, Henrietta would. Sometime the rooster would get fed up with Henrietta bothering him and give her a good whipping. She would get the message and stay away for awhile. Only to return at another time to check if he changed his mind. As the baby chicks started to appear we would watch animal behavior and was astounded at some of the things we saw.

I saw something outrageous at a friends house. He had a chicken walking around the yard without one single feather. I mean, not one. That was really a funny sight to see a naked chicken. My friend said he didn't know why the bird didn't have any feathers, just never grew any. He never saw anything like it either.

Being out far from the city, there was still wild animals around, notably owls, wolves, coyotes, hawks and snakes and it didn't take any of these critters long to find out where dinner was being served. Chickens had nests everywhere according to their fancy. I had several make nests inside the pump house and then the chicken snakes started coming. One nest that may have 10-12 eggs in it one day may be empty the next. You could tell when a chicken snake was in the area when the eggs started disappearing. Sometimes you may find a snake coiled up in a nest, so full, he couldn't move. A quick report from my .22 rifle put an end to their egg sucking when I could catch them in the area. They would gulp down the baby chicks too.

One early morning we heard a terrible squawking outside and we looked out a window to see a coyote trying to steal a chicken. The birds were going every which way and the noise was noticeable. One game bird put up a good struggle to get away, but the coyote was hungry and determined, grabbed the screaming bird and a couple bites and shakes. She was his. I barreled out the front door with shotgun in hand and my dog Bear right beside me barking with excitement, ready for action. The coyote was already making a very fast exit and I couldn't get a shot but Bear had the scent and knew our territory had been invaded by a unwelcome guest.

Bear was tracking good but he didn't have to as the coyote was leaving a trail of feathers anyone could follow. I followed the trail to the end of my property line and decided there was no way I was going to catch that animal. Bear was willing with his excited barks and whining. I called him back and he obeyed. The disappointed dog muttered dog curses to himself all the way back home.

Another raid was performed by another wolf or coyote but the action happened so fast I couldn't identify my birds tormenters. This time the animal was lying in wait on the other side of the house biding his time. I was alerted by the terror filled screaming of the chickens and bounded out the back and was able to get off a rapid shot, but out of range. This let the animal know he was courting death if he got caught.

Sometimes at night we would be bedded down, things very quiet and you could hear the coyotes yodeling a long ways off and all was still. Then a chicken who was roosting in the trees around my house might start a pushing and shoving match to see who got the most comfortable limb.

There was a chicken pecking order. The fittest got the best spots and woe the upstart chicken who tried to hog another's place. You could hear the squabbling going on until the matter was settled. Then peace. Then on some clear nights you would really hear a ruckus. It seems that a owl might sneak in with the chickens and get next to one and start pushing. My game chickens could hold their own as long as they were in the trees. They were fighters.

The owls would start their pushing and shoving match gradually shoving the chicken over until there was no more limb. The chicken would then have to make a run for it in the night and then the owl had his turn. Better night vision and strong talons made short work of a chicken on the ground.

Whenever I heard a commotion like that and you could tell by the worried tone in the chickens squawks that something wasn't right. I would stick my .22 automatic rifle out the back door and rapidly crank off four or five rounds scaring the predator away.

As the chickens were having more and more babies I would love to watch the little biddies follow their Mothers around imitating her, learning to scratch and snap up whatever morsel they found. I would get right down close and try to see what they were so happy about, but I never could see what they were eating. I swear they were eating dirt.

The chickens who had their eggs eaten were broken hearted and wouldn't leave their nests for several days until they finally got in their heads it was time to go start another. I was in the yard one time and if for some reason some chicken annoyed another with her babies or the babies got mixed up, war between two, sometime three or four would be in a big gang fight. I never really knew what they were fighting about. The fights were very interesting though. No deaths resulted, just ruffled feathers. It seemed like on cue, the fighting would stop and everyone would go back to scratching the ground as if nothing had happened.

In the pump house, one of the chickens had her eggs eaten by a snake, so when the other setting chicken would go out for a drink of water or snack on a bug, she would come back to find her nest occupied by this other chicken. Gosh, the fights started and these two birds would squabble over this nest two or three times a day. I mean some serious fights ensued. Sadly many eggs got broken.

I came back later to find one chicken on the nest covering the remaining eggs and the other chicken was roosting on top of her. The bottom chicken sure must of got hot, it being summertime. It seems like this was their compromise. I looked very silly though. These two birds would still fight nearly everyday. Perhaps over their fighting or the chicken snakes, there was only one egg left and one little baby chick survived over that mess. Well the two mother chickens would both mother the baby chick, it being the only one who had two mothers would be contently going around the yard like all the other birds doing their duties sounding very happy.. This went on for several days and I was watching these birds and for some unexplained reason one of the mother chickens that was caring for the little chicken, turned on the baby and tried every way she could to kill it. Scratching, stomping, pecking, whacking it with her wings. Of course the other mother stepped in and tried to defend the baby without much success. The little chick was getting badly mauled.

I couldn't understand this but finally I stepped over and scooped up the little frightened bird but observed it was to badly hurt to survive. Drat! I put the little fellow out of his misery.

Some animal behavior I will never understand. A few days later we came home and Henrietta Hen was nowhere to be found. We did find some white feathers scattered around. Alas, Henrietta must have become a wolf dinner we assumed. Now it was becoming noticeable that our baby chicks were disappearing. What's happening to them we wondered. Soon, I noticed a couple hundred yards away on a utility post, perched a nice fine hawk. This must be the fellow who's getting my baby chicks. Hawks are smart. They wait for you to leave and swoop down and grab a baby chick. I never could get a decent shot and if the hawk saw me come out with my deer rifle, off he would fly.

Finally all my baby chicks were gone. By this time my chickens were so rattled from their enemies, they quit laying. With all that, my chicken flock quadrupled and now the King white rooster had some challengers. For a long time the white rooster was King and at that he was bigger that the game roosters, but don't forget the others were fighting stock.

We came back one day and found his body. Didn't get to see a fight but it looks like roosters will fight to the death. About this time lo and behold Henrietta Hen came waltzing out of the woods as if she had never disappeared.

She went back trying to present herself to the other roosters who didn't want anything to do with her either. We had loads of roosters now and at dawn the crowing was deafening. Something had to go. So we ate them. Excellent, slow boiled with dumplings. We watched many rooster fights being amused by their power struggle until one big rooster became the new "King" rooster. All the others stayed out of his way.

I saw a strange sight where I bought my first rooster at. I was driving by slow, always ready to stop and chat awhile when I saw a rooster scratching the ground looking for food but the weird part of this a group of about fifteen little baby Guineas were following him and adopted this rooster as their mother.

The rooster seemed quite happy with the arrangement and everyone was family. He would scratch the ground and the little Guinea chick's would rush up to see what he had uncovered.

So back home again and sadly, laying there on the ground, beside the house, was Henrietta, dead. This time she didn't make it. We looked over her body to try and determine why she died and concluded that one of those roosters fought her and broke her neck.

So ends the story of Henrietta hen.

Animal behavior is strange sometimes. They do things that appears to be completely contrary to nature.    

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