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Front Porch: I’ll always remember the days the clothesline was used for more than clothes.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

July 9, 2021

3 Min Read
vintage feed signs and old chicken roost
CHICKEN ROOSTS AND FEED: Our farm had a new, small building our landlord bought for Mom at the Indiana State Fair. She used various pieces of chicken equipment to raise chickens for Sunday dinners. Tom J. Bechman

Somedays I struggle to remember what I had for dinner the night before. Or maybe it’s someone’s last name I can’t recall until the old computer on my shoulders starts whirring and finally spits it out. But I can remember some things from childhood like it was yesterday.

When I sorted through pictures of chicken equipment and feed signs from days gone by recently, vivid memories of butchering day popped into my head. All I could see was my mother, Virginia, in our backyard, ready to harvest the latest crop of chickens that would become a whole lot of Sunday dinners.

What I remember most is those chickens hanging upside down on the clothesline that stretched from an old maple tree to the corner of the shed behind the house. They were dead, waiting to be “dressed,” but it was quite the sight for a young boy of 8 or 9 years of age.

Normally, Mom would do 25 chickens at a time. I’m sure she had help, and I’m sure getting them plucked and processed and into the freezer was an all-day job, but all I remember is those chickens hanging there, and Mom hanging up one after another.

The sight didn’t bother me — I wasn’t a big fan of chickens unless they were fried and on my plate. Their pecking and scratching in the dirt and constant clucking didn’t endear them to me. Maybe that’s why we’ve never had chickens on our place, even though the kids always oohed and aahed over the baby chicks at farm stores. Graham, our grandson, begged for some, but even Grandma wouldn’t give in.

Grandma (my wife, Carla) and her family raised chickens for real for the era. They had 1,000 layers in a long, low wooden building. She relates how gathering eggs in that dingy building with chickens running around wasn’t her favorite task. The Palm Sunday tornado of 1965 took out electricity, the chickens molted, and her dad decided it was time to exit the chicken business. Carla assures me she didn’t shed any tears.

Another memory

The other thing I remember most about our chickens was the building they lived in. We lived on a small tenant dairy farm. My mom mentioned wanting a few chickens one day when the landlord was around. Next thing I knew, he and Dad came home from the Indiana State Fair, and a small building with a low ceiling and three windows, just right for raising chickens for butchering, appeared and wound up in the permanent pasture behind our house. Anything “new” was a big deal to a kid on the farm in the early 1960s.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too many years before Mom decided she could buy chickens cheaper than she could raise them, and she convinced us store-bought chicken didn’t taste so bad after all.

Then the chicken house became an oats bin. We would shovel oats in off the 1-ton Chevy truck on a hot July afternoon, then shovel them into the feed grinder as needed for dairy feed. One year when we had more corn than storage space, it became a corn crib.

But to all of us, it was always the “chicken house,” even when it hadn’t seen a chicken for 25 years.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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