The Day My Mom's Leghorn Hens Got Drunk...
Life off the grid in the sixties
Years ago, when I was a preteen, my family and I lived a life off the grid long before "off the grid" was in style.
We owned 100 acres with a quaint tar paper shack that became our home. The acreage had an added bonus; an old dilapidated chicken coop located just behind the house. One could be excused for thinking our family was living in the sticks in harsh conditions, but we were proud homeowners. We loved the place. We were on top of the world. I still have fond memories of that place even though we only lived there a few years before moving to our current home.
We had lived in the city previously so we were city folk, except for Mom who had actually grown up on a farm. She was our "farm" authority. We relied on her knowledge to get us through.
She ordered some chicks for the chicken coop by mail order and dad set about repairing a home for our new arrivals. Leghorns, she called them.
They just looked funny...
Easter Chicks by the Dozen
Several weeks later, father drove to the local train station to pick up our new arrivals.
A big, low, lidded, cardboard box full of live, fluffy, yellow chicks survived the journey from Winnipeg.It was an experience for a city child to see all those yellow, peeping, balls of fluff.
Mother tended to them right away. The consummate farmer; she made sure they were hydrated and fed and not in any distress. They stayed in their box in the house to keep warm for a few days , much to my happy delight to be able to watch these adorable babies peeping away. Later, they were transferred to a smaller enclosure inside the chicken coop where they were kept until they grew feathers.
They were soon pure white gorgeous Leghorn hens.
Mother let the young hens have free range outside. They stayed around the house since they knew Mom would be coming out with grain to feed her charges. Meanwhile, they ate insects and fresh green grass and grew rapidly. The hens would return to the coop every evening to roost.
It was so great to be farmers.
Mom warned us not to scare the hens since they might eject an egg prematurely in their fright. The premature egg would just be a leathery sac . Sure enough…there were a few leathery eggs around... because curious minds had to check out that factoid.
According to Mom (our expert), Leghorn hens besides being easily frightened were particularly prone to disease. Apparently, Leghorns were not as hardy as other breeds of poultry, so mother was sort of particular about caring for them.
Besides being fledgling chicken farmers, my parents, frugal to the bone, made a home-brewed currant wine for themselves and our occasional guests.. One visitor who slugged back a glass in haste, fooled by it’s mild and smooth flavor, had great difficulty walking once he tried to get up! He wasn't the only one to be affected by this potent brew.
One day, my mother glanced out the kitchen window horrified to discover her prized Leghorn hens had something seriously wrong with them. They were teetering past the kitchen window doing nose dives into the grass and then staggering up again wings flapping crazily.
Some had their wings spread out like something was wrong with their feet. They needed to spread those wings like tightrope walkers on a high wire. The fallen ones were having a real rough time getting back on their feet only to fall back down again They seemed to have lost their sense of direction bumping into each other and knocking themselves off their feet. We watched in horror as it appeared the entire flock was infected with some deadly virus. The entire flock was weaving around the yard and into things.
This was serious, since a disease would mean the flock was doomed if infected. Mother was rather distraught. Her entire flock destroyed.
Mom had designated a place to throw organic matter off in the bush a distance away from the house. We carried our pail there several times a day with dishwater, coffee grounds along with vegetable peels and whatever would decay.
Mother who was fastidious in her cleaning, went to empty some waste water a few hours later at her compost site. She came back looking relieved and amused. When Dad got home from work, there was considerable mirth because her chickens had discovered the fermented currants she had discarded after she had bottled her currant wine. Her prized Leghorns had gorged themselves. The Leghorns were drunk!
That was probably the first time the hens were confined to their enclosure.
I remember there were jokes about what kind of eggs we would have the next day. So, as it turns out, not one chicken died of the mysterious malady, but it sure made for a great story to tell visitors as they sat around enjoying my mother’s currant wine.