Lessons learned in the chicken coop

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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“Whatever you do, don’t let go,” said Chrissy Karrer, 4-H Extension agent.

She and her husband, Ben, crouched in our chicken coop Saturday helping us pick the birds my son would bring to the broiler show at the Wise County Youth Fair Monday.

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

“With the chicken facing you, grab its legs and flip it in one motion,” Ben said. The bird flaps violently for a few seconds, then proceeds to hang upside down to be judged.

My son stepped up and confidently flipped a chicken on his first try. I was more hesitant, but also committed to helping him in the show ring.

Once I turned that bird upside down and faced its most dangerous end, I realized there really is no limit to a mother’s love.

In the spirit of 4-H, my 10-year-old’s project had become a family project, and it was all hands on deck.

In seven short weeks, my son has acquired the following skills:

  • He can lift a 50-pound bag of feed.
  • He can operate a small tractor, a.k.a. riding lawnmower, and
  • He can wrangle a chicken without flinching.

While these are all skills that I’m confident will be put to use in the years ahead, we were most deeply affected by the intangible things we learned not only about poultry, but also each other.

About week four, the boy and I were left alone to care for the chickens. My husband was out of town for work, and although it’s normal to lose birds to natural causes in this process, it was imperative (to me) that no birds die on my watch.

We devised an early morning routine where I would wake his sister and while she ate breakfast, he and I would head to the coop. Every morning seemed to hold a new surprise or misadventure, but we’re a “roll with the punches” family – a philosophy that was tested late that week.

According to the weather report, a severe thunderstorm was rolling in from the west, and it was to hit Decatur at precisely 6:45 a.m.

I woke the boy earlier than normal and told him we had 15 minutes to get our work done.

He fed the birds and cleaned their bedding, while I primarily supervised. We carried the waterer from the coop to fill it up, and by then the wind was gusting and dark clouds were hanging low.

My son had run to the porch to turn on the water while I stood with the hose filling up the waterer near the coop. The lightning was close now, and as it began to spit rain, I yelled to him to go inside. I would be there in a minute.

I carried the water back to the coop and due to a malfunction of my own making, the thing began to leak. A lot.

I frantically repaired the problem, but while doing so, the storm hit. The rain sounded thunderous on the metal roof, but I took comfort in the fact that the kids were safely in the house. It had now been more than “a minute,” and I knew they would be wondering about me, especially as the storm raged outside.

There was nothing left to do but finish the work at hand and make a run for it.

I finally opened the coop to make my exit, and just as I was latching the door to leave, there was my boy.

Worried, he had come back, running through the pouring rain and lightning to check on me.

“I’m here to help!” he exclaimed, arms extended, ready to take hold of whatever challenges lay in wait.

I’m not gonna lie. I thought my heart would burst.

We ran to the porch and then fell into fits of laughter at our predicament and my foiled plans.

Luckily, the chickens survived the week, and when my husband returned home, he also returned to his post as chief overseer of the poultry project.

Although I grew up in 4-H and benefited from the organization, I have a renewed appreciation for it as I’ve seen my son thrive and learn news skills in just two years.

I think my husband would agree that working side-by-side with our son leading up to the Youth Fair opened up new avenues of conversation and taught us all how to better work together.

And perhaps most importantly, we realized our kid can step up when needed.

The lessons may seem small, but little things one day turn into big things.

You never know when you might have to flip a chicken.

Kristen Tribe is news editor of the Wise County Messenger.

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