The sorrowful demise of the barnyard biddy

`WITH scientific assiduity,'' it says, this veterinarian tackled the hen's egg. ``For years I've been thinking,'' says Georg Lauermann, ``about why our eggs taste so dull.'' He reasoned that if fish meal fed to hens makes fishy eggs, the thing to do is feed the hens something else, finding at last a food that will make eggs taste once again like eggs.

Pity 'tis that some of these smart people struggle with their great ideas when they might apply to me and I'd spare them all that exertion. I could have told Dr. Lauermann all he needs to know. Not only do eggs taste of fish, but so does the chicken.

All that is necessary is to remember the kind days when the biddy was a member of the family, before she was shut up in a reformatory and fed computerized formulae full of the factor of growth and production. Once the hen was proud and useful; now she is demeaned and utilitarian. She is a sad member of our new society, abused and put upon, and because of the way we treat her she is quite justified in turning out fishy eggs.

The pleasant farm dooryard is gone; no more do the biddies wander about seeking what they may devour and then devouring it. No longer do they wander into the fields and far up to the woodlot, nor into the road that offers a chance to dust off a warm afternoon while horse-and-buggy passes on the other side.

A hen will eat about anything, and in the summer she seldom needed subsidiary assistance from the feed hopper. Feed hoppers were kept full at great expense, and were meant for winter. During the winter, if a hen spent too much time at the hopper and neglected the nest, she would contribute to family prosperity by way of the stewpot. In the summer, finding her own grub at large, she could lay off or lay in and it didn't much matter.

There was so very much that went with keeping a few hens that is lost to our civilization, now destitute of poultry management. The hens did roam at large all summer, and there were hazards - but faithful old Rover was ever alert. The men in the fields and the women in the house would hear Rover go howling off in hot pursuit of whatever it was - fox, raccoon, hawk.... The men would look up and the women would look out, and whatever had disturbed Rover hadn't made it to the hens. At night the hens were penned, and Rover relaxed. In the morning the farmer raised the little trapdoor and the hens burst forth to a new day, and Rover was in business.

The roadway, where the hens rolled in the dust in their strange cleansing rites, was no hazard. People driving by expected hens, and no horse ever stepped on one.

One of my earliest recollections has to do with riding to the village with Grampie, old Tanty in the ``sharves,'' and I was instructed in identifying the breed of hen in each dooryard. The Smiths kept barred Plymouth Rocks; the Windhams, Rhode Island Reds; the Pulks had Brahmas; and the Newgates had a little of everything - that's a blue Minorca, that's a silver spangled Hamburg, that's a white Leghorn. The big house on the corner, just before the village, had some beautiful blue Andalusians. Grampie coached me in the different kinds, and told how the Maine sea captains, in their day, fetched home every breed of hen from the world around, and Maine had 'em all. And not one of 'em laid a fishy egg.

The rooster gave Rover some help, on occasion. Let an inquisitive hawk scale over, casing the joint, or let a neighbor's vulturous barncat skulk, and the rooster would let out a squawk and go four feet in the air with contumely and vituperation, and Rover would look up to ascertain the validity of the alarm.

Then it was always fun to see the rooster summon his dames to dine whenever he discovered a tasty morsel. Everybody would be here and there looking for bugs and worms and grasshoppers, plus sundries, and all at once Chanticleer would come upon a choice core from a Red Astrachan apple that the young man of the family had cast aside on his way to the trout brook.

``Look, look, look!'' the rooster would cry, making a dos-`a-dos and a forward-and-back, and all the hens would look up in eager desire. He is a splendid beast and they are proud of him. ``Come, come, come,'' he calls, and brandishes his wings and waves his wattles in warm welcome. Then, just as the hens all arrive to help him, he eats the apple core himself. ``Go find your own,'' he crows, teaching self-reliance and inculcating wisdom.

The veterinarian feeds his hens herbs - basil, chervil, rosemary, thyme, sage - and says his eggs are not fishy.

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