Poultry Ranching & The Great Chicken Shoot
Never let it be said that when veiled opportunity knocks a Rednak or his friends don’t hesitate to seize the moment. Such would be the case with the great chicken ranch project on Bob Sutton’s and Eddie Polite’s “six row” farm out on Rice Mill Road.
The “farm” was a parcel given to Eddie’s grandfather by the Freedman’s Bureau in the 1870’s as reparation for slavery. One quarter mile by one hundred feet wide it was referred to by many as a six row farm because within the confines of its allocated boundaries six rows was about all you could plow out, and turn a team around in. A cruel joke, but the resourceful never looked that “gift horse” in the mouth.
One evening, Eddie came home from one of his events with the back seat of his ‘59 Coupe Deville, full of cardboard boxes that were full of chickens, a little over forty chickens, it turned out. Seems that as the party progressed, the party giver went out and spent all the party money he had left on bootleg whiskey. . . . Some fuel to keep the good times rollin’. Eddie had to get paid somehow and since it was dark, all he had to do was walk into the henhouse and gather up the feathered currency. Polite was sauced up enough himself to accept this predicament as a most opportune occurrence.
Aside from the chicken crap he got all over his white/brown, wing-tip Oxford shoes, and all over the driver’s side floor mat, the inside of the Cadillac was full of chicken feathers from front to back. It looked as though someone had plucked chickens inside the car. The truth came out later, that one box of roosters and hens fell open and as the windows were closed, flapped and cackled, and clawed and squawked, bouncing wildly about the Cadillac’s interior in a cloud of feathers and dust as they attempted to escape. Eddie ran off the shoulder of the road, stopped, and in ten minutes finally re-captured the escapees . . . losing two to the darkness. As he stood catching his breath, the freed fowl were heard clucking loudly as they faded into the moonlit underbrush.
Once home, Eddie realized there was no place to put the chickens so he left them in the car until the next day’s light. That Cadillac was never the same from that day forward and no matter what cardboard deodorizer was used- - - hula girl to orange blossoms - - the subtle essence of chicken poop was always wafting from the car, especially in the summer!
Sutton and Eddie cobbled together a pen and a shed for a coop. Wooden vegetable boxes were nailed together and eight nests made available to about 22 hens. All but three of the roosters brought home were used in Sutton’s clam chowder or for Saturday night cookouts and those three were the best flyers of the bunch. One was a bantam, all black, who flew like a pigeon. He roosted at the top of a massive live oak that provided most of the shade for the pole barn, hog pens, and new chicken enclosure. One Rooster was a giant - - so big he couldn’t really fly. But he could leap and flap his way to the top of the mobile “houses” and he could be heard crowing a mile away before daylight ever thought about breakin’. The last rooster was low man on the totem pole. He had no personality, no looks and no fight. The other two took turns chasing him around and/or ambushing him at every opportunity. His was not a significant part of the poultry operation’s gene pool.
In the nest boxes hens dumped eggs on top of eggs. They laid eggs in dusting holes around the pen. They flew out and nested under bushes, on the tractor seat, and in the bow of Sutton’s boat. Eddie Polite had people all the way down below Port Royal and out to Ridgeville that he delivered eggs too. Yet, they were never out of eggs. Many knew that on Sundays they could drop by when the two farmers were nursing hangovers and get eggs for free. But still, they were never out of eggs.
Then one weekend, I had the “good luck” of winning an incubator at an auction along with a five stack chick brooder. My thoughts were that the guys could expand their poultry enterprise and really start to make some money. I never gave one moment of thought to the consequences of this optimistic fairy tale I’d conjured up. But, as a result, I would pay a heavy price for my impetuous wishful thinking.
From the first day, the incubator was full of eggs. Twenty three days later about half the eggs hatched. Eddie, pulled out the hatched shells and quickly replaced them with fresh eggs. He didn’t put water in the humidifier - - - and he didn’t throw away the un-hatched eggs! Needless to say, two weeks into the next hatch things got odiferous. You think that this would be an obvious lesson. However, eggs continued to crowd the incubator and no organized system was employed for hatching birds except taking what survived to hatch, out of the incubator and putting the new chicks into the brooders.
After Thanksgiving, there were about five to six dozen chicks growing rapidly to adulthood out on Rice Mill Road. The whole place could be smelled a quarter of a mile away. Dominant genes were from the banty rooster, as most chicks were predominately black, small, and ready to fly like overfed quail.
I left for South Florida to fish the winter season and stayed down there through the end of April. When I got back I went out to the Polite & Sutton poultry/pig ranch at the first opportunity.
As I slowed down to make the “ranch” turn, there were chickens out on the road; on both shoulders. Turning in, there were chickens in the drive, in the bushes, and looking up, chickens in the trees like a crow’s convention. I pulled up to the “house” and tapped the truck horn. Sutton came out and I asked him what the hell was going on?
“I can’t keep Eddie away from the incubator.” He sounded like a defeated man. “I told him I was pulling the power out there tomorrow. The County was here yesterday and they told us that we had two weeks to thin out the chickens to a hundred birds and get them contained - - - meaning out of the trees and off the highway.”
We went in the house to get a cold beer and Sutton smiling, said that he had come up with a solution to the County’s ultimatum. We would put on a chicken shoot and advertise out at the resort island beyond the state park. The shoot would be called The Eddie Polite Chicken Shit Shoot. Entry fee would be $25 per person which with twenty five entrants would pay for beer, and some. The person with the most birds after shooting a box of shells would win. All the chickens would be cleaned and fried at the following night’s awards banquet at the island marina. So, it was done and ranked high on affairs created by the Georgia Tech engineer Sutton and the whack job, young black man, who descended from freed slaves, had never been further than 40 miles from Lady’s Island.
Luv Ya! Alce A.
"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words."