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Counting chickens long after they hatch

The on-line ad read, Those pastel, peeping presents left by the Easter Bunny have inspired you. You want to start a chicken ranch. Don't let the nay-sayers get you down. With this step-by-step instructional DVD, anyone, even you, can farm roosters and hens. Send $14.95 plus $17.50 for S&H to Fowler Ranches Nvrben, 800 Scratchnpeck Butte, Hiroost, CA 85409.

When I discovered that she showed my children a chicken ranch video made in California, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It aroused images of a seedy documentary about a Nevada whore house.

I also wondered, living in a rural county like we do, laden with farmers and FFA boys willing to jaw about raising chickens until the cows come home, why Charlotte bypassed the experts and clicked add to my shopping cart.

Four to six weeks later the DVD arrived via U.S. postal service. Charlotte dropped it on top of the television, forgetting about it until Saturday, when my four children went over to play with her four children.

By mid-afternoon, Charlotte wanted to stick a hot poker up her left nostril and slowly twist it. "Hey, kids," she called, in a tremulous voice, as they howled through the house slamming doors, "how about a movie?"

Every child came running, except the one tethered to a chair. He hobbled in ten minutes later, raking his theater seating across the wainscoting in the hall.

Charlotte tapped PLAY, and wandered away to put a cold cloth on her forehead. Meanwhile, the babes in her care learned about conception.

"That rooster is pulling that hen's feathers out of her back," exclaimed one child.

"He's so mad at her," observed another.

"Now he's trying to squish her down. He's so mean," said one of the girls.

Finally, a worldly brother, having logged more Animal Planet hours than Jeff Corwin, exasperatedly instructed, "They're mating, ya'll."

"What's that?" inquired a younger child.

"It's when one animal climbs on another one's back. Duh!"

Through time lapse, chickens hatched and developed from babies to adolescents to adults.

Just as the tykes started to fidget, the feature climaxed. The narrator talked, as a woman held a fat, brown hen by its ankles, wings flapping furiously and then helplessly hanging toward the earth.

The woman placed the chicken's neck between two rusty nails pounded into an old stump and, without warning, slung a hatchet blade down with the other hand. THWACK! A flick of the hand-ax scraped the head, beak opening and closing in a voiceless plea, to the ground.

Eight children sucked in hard, their eyes drinking in the rivulets of blood running down the stump onto the dirt, while the voiceover droned on. Yet, no one looked away.

The hand, that moments before held the bloody hatchet, lifted the twitching body from the makeshift guillotine and placed it on the ground. Of course, to the glee and awe of the viewers, it ran.

THWACK! A second headless hen lay upon the stump. This time the woman lowered the body, neck down, into a bleed-cone (a milk jug recycled as a funnel), feet dangling over the sides. Gravity pulled the juice of life through the plastic spout.

Compared to the next sequence, boiling and plucking the flaccid corpse, the scalded rabbit scene from Fatal Attraction would have given our offspring warm fuzzies. And it wasn't until this carefully crafted videography that the children fled the room, screaming for Charlotte.

The upside to mentally scarring impressionable youths: They will probably never go within 100 miles of a Nevada chicken ranch.

Web posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007

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