The Tale of the Missing Chicken Foot: A True Story

The feather-covered chicken leg, complete with a foot, laying near the welcome mat on the front porch one Sunday morning a few months back barely caught my attention.

It wasn’t until my husband questioned the chicken leg’s presence that it occurred to me that it wasn’t quite normal to have a stray leg just laying on our porch.

That’s how I know I grew up on a farm.

As a kid, we had pigs, beef cattle…and farm dogs. With farm dogs around, it was never especially surprising to see a random animal part laying on the lawn. Some of my best anatomy lessons came from deciphering what exactly it was that Buster hauled up on the lawn to chew. Disgusting? Yes. But it is honest. Farm dogs find the best chew toys in the least desirable places.

With that in mind, a stray chicken leg didn’t seem like any cause for alarm. Once my husband mentioned the leg, however, I had an epiphany, “Hey wait a minute, WE have chickens.” Generally speaking, that shouldn’t be much of an epiphany. In my defense, my mind was racing between getting kids out the door to church and then heading to Grandma’s.

Pondering the rightful owner of the chicken leg planted a sinking feeling in my stomach. Our dog is just naughty enough to not really be trusted to leave chickens alone. Gulp. While my husband loaded the wood burner, I headed to the shed to do a little animal welfare check.

Walking into the shed, a quick scan revealed our three chicken ladies were missing from their usual hangout on the gate railing.

Oh no.

I kept looking, expecting to see bits of chicken feathers or some sort of evidence of chicken destruction. Finally, my eyes found some relief. The three chickens were all standing close together on the floor.

Instantly, though, it stuck me as odd. They all seemed closely huddled together, were hanging out in a corner where I’ve never seen them before, and they were on the floor. Usually they prefer sitting up on a higher vantage point.

Then I saw it.

The middle chicken was standing on only one leg.

My heart sank. My mind raced in a million directions. What in the world do I do with a one-legged chicken? Do I have to put her out of her misery? And how should I do that? I really should know how to butcher a chicken. Can chickens live on one leg , like dogs can live with three? Could she maybe just hop from here on out?

As I pondered my predicament, I looked for blood spots on her and the floor. I couldn’t see anything, and surprisingly, she didn’t look like she was in pain. Perhaps she dropped the leg as simply as one of those lizards that can lose their tail? She seemed to adapt so quickly to the loss.

Soon enough, I had my answer.

When the two other chickens shifted slightly, she stirred and moved. As she shifted, she uncurled her leg that had been tucked up and placed it on the floor, as normal as ever. Yep, normal. Two legs, fully functional and intact. My life suddenly felt much easier.

 Beware of missing feet: Ideally, chickens should have two feet at all times, like the hen pictured above.

Beware of missing feet: Ideally, chickens should have two feet at all times, like the hen pictured above.

Turns out, she just tucked up her leg to be cozy on a chilly day.

As for the chicken leg on the porch, a nice man in a large blue truck relocated it to a more suitable long-term resting place.

We may never know the full story. All of the forensics experts seem to be occupied with other investigations. A coyote is a “person of interest” in the case. Last fall, a chicken disappeared on the very day that a neighbor spotted a coyote in the field next to our house. Neither the chicken nor the coyote have been seen since.

RIP Chicken foot. Long may you scratch in that big chicken coop up in the sky.

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Spring is Keeping Me Awake at Night

Written April 9, 2012.

It’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the full moon. Maybe it’s the mediocre cup of instant Folgers I brewed and drank at 10 PM. Maybe it’s the fact that my husband, Jarred, will be here tomorrow after spending the last two weeks back in Montana working on loose ends. Maybe it’s the landscaping plants sitting outside the Rushford Hardware Hank that beckoned me on the way into the store this evening, and now leave me laying in bed making landscaping schemes and dreams.

Maybe it’s that my 2-year-old keeps getting out of his bed to come and snuggle up next to me for reassurance in this new house, with his giant hard plastic hippo flashlight in tow. Maybe it’s that all the creaking in the hallway from late night foot traffic is waking up the baby, making her cry and then keeping me awake. Maybe I can’t sleep because there are two people sleeping in our king size bed right now, and neither one is my husband nor me…and even though neither one is waist high, the whole bed seems to be occupied.

I don’t know what it is, but I can swear can feel an energized humming all around. The florescent lights under the kitchen cabinets make a soft, slightly annoying hum, but I don’t think that’s it. I think the humming is coming up from the ground. I think it’s spring. It’s soft grass, crabapple trees in full blooming pink, tractors industriously crisscrossing up and down our road, and leaf buds opening on trees, practically glowing in the fresh green.

All of it makes me just too excited to sleep. Living in a rental house for the past year felt a little like suspended animation. We spent a big part of that year in a holding pattern, wondering where and how were going to land. But now, we’ve landed.

Our kids were thrilled to discover a gigantic evergreen in our windbreak, perfect for climbing and complete with an existing tree fort.

And best of all, it’s spring. It’s my favorite time of the year. It’s easy to fall in love in spring. Eleven years ago I remember hanging out on the roof of Jarred’s house in college, sitting up there with him in the week before finals. The excitement of freedom from school in sight, and looking out from the rooftop vantage point at the town of Bozeman, Montana, where every apple tree was in full pink bloom, and the sun was shining warm in the clear blue sky, made the whole world seem lovable. I was smitten with life and engaged in three months. That’s what spring, and of course the right guy, can do.

The feeling is much the same here at our new home. There’s just so much energy, promise, and new opportunity all around. Coming from dryland Eastern Montana, where our annual rainfall was just 13 inches, I feel like I’ve now been unleashed in Minnesota at the all-you-can-grow buffet. Looking at plants and seeds, I have to rein myself in and practice portion control. I just want all of it. I want to gorge myself on plants and grow everything, until I feel gluttonous on flowers.

Part of me feels like a kid getting to play farmhouse. I get to have my house and yard in the country that is all ours, and stare out at rolling fields of rich, black dirt and have all the fun of seeing big tractors in the field and watching crops grow. And like a kid, watching the farming all around me is just pure fun. I fully realize farming involves the reality of equipment breaks, bankers, ever-changing federal farm programs, uncertain crop prices, and so much more. And that makes me all the more content to simply be an enthusiastic fan on the sidelines of farming.

While I’m just a spectator to the fields all around us, in our own house and yard, we can get our hands dirty with several years’ worth of projects. I look around and I’m just itching to give some attention to countless little projects that need some paint, a little repair, some love, and a little sprucing up. Doing them on our own time, the progress will be little by little. In my head, though, I can run it all at fast forward speed, and see the end product like it’s one of those movie montages.

If life was a Hollywood movie, we’d have this whole place looking pretty as a picture in about three minutes.

You know the kind, the Happy Hollywood Fixing up the Farmhouse Montage. If life was a Hollywood movie, I’d wear overalls and a red handkerchief on my head, the standard “working hard in the country” movie costume. In the background, a happy, hoedown-y song would be playing as you’d see the progress of improvements on our farm. I say farm, because in Hollywood, our 7.6 acres is most definitely a farm because we have a farmhouse, silo, barn, chicken coup, and sheds. Farm, right? No tillable acreage aside from the garden? Eh, details.

Visualize, then, some happy music as the backdrop of the “hard work” montage. I’d have a paint roller in my hand, painting up the outside of the house, and 10 seconds later the house will look all spiffy and new. Then I’d work up a sweat in the garden, wipe my brow with the back of my hand and leave a dirt streak there (you know you’ve seen this before). Next, Jarred and I saw logs with one of those two handled saws (firing up a more practical Stihl chainsaw just isn’t as romantic). Add in some zany hijinks where our kids are chasing chickens, and then the chickens chase the kids.

Then we’d wash the rounded fenders of our 1940’s pickup truck (because that’s what all movie farmers drive). I’d accidentally splash someone else with the garden house, and then a crazy, silly waterfight would break out. By now, the end of the hoedowny song comes, and we collapse on our backs onto the green grass with our arms stretched out, with that satisfied, hard-work-feels-good smile on our faces as we sigh.

And ba-da-bing, the camera pans across the farmyard, where everything is neat and trim and freshly painted, and all the flowers are growing perfectly under the wraparound porch. In the next shot, we sip our lemonades on the porch swing, gazing upon the sunset (even though the porch actually faces east, but that doesn’t matter for Hollywood purposes). All of the improvements would be done in the course of a song.

In real life I’d love to just grab a paintbrush and some perennials and be left to my own devices for days at a time. But if you’ve read any previous weeks of this column, you know my reality is four little kids to take care of, and you can probably guess that making “good progress” on anything often involves either losing sleep or leaving the kids to their own devices for too long, and then picking up the pieces (often literally) of whatever they’ve gotten into.

Our two-year-old was definitely less than thrilled to discover a burdock for the first time.

It’s late. I really should be in bed. Tomorrow morning, I will regret being up for an extra few hours tonight. I’ll feel crabby and groggy and just want to sleep when the kids are clamoring for a bowl of cereal. But yes, I am excited. Spring is in the air. It’s new life, new beginnings, new opportunities, endless possibilities. I can feel it all around me, and I want to go play.

 © 2012