Where Has the Little Red Hen Gone?

MISSING IN ACTION: The Little Red Hen.

SPECIES: Chicken.

SUB-SPECIES: Rhode Island Red.

LOCATION: Golden Books in literature. Small towns, farms and ranches in real life.

Linda Brady Traynham’s recent missive on the chicken mess and the coming dismantling of chicken farming, if a Federal lawsuit is successful, will also lead to the demise of a staple in legend and fact. The Little Red Hen.

You disagree? Then follow me down a long and winding path that leads to an inescapable conclusion. In the beginning, at least in America, the Little Red Hen was used in reading primers as a means of teaching a clear morality. For all the details, take a look at this Wikipedia entry that can be found here.

The same article will describe how a delightful, educational, entertaining and moralistic story has been corrupted by the big O’s administration into evil resistance. Now instead of illustrating how those who refuse to work should not share the bounty of those who do, morality has flipped 180 degrees.

Today, the Little Red Hen is demonized as being unfair because she doesn’t share her bounty. The new morality is that everyone receives an equal share, whether they earned it or not. Removes any incentive to work, doesn’t it? And why should you work since everyone will be equally poor.

What does all of the above have to do with the lawsuit over chicken mess…excrement if you prefer, as well as other colorful, descriptive terms that are best not used in this space…that Linda discussed? Plenty, particularly where the live action Little Red Hen is concerned.

Rhode Island Red chickens, which is what the Little Red Hen is, have been common sights in small towns, farms and ranches all over this country. If you’ve never seen a Rhode Island Red rooster perched on a fence, flapping his wings and crowing for all he’s worth to announce the dawn of a new day, it’s a sight to behold. He crows for other reasons too, but that’s a whole other story.

But back to the Hen. She struts around, scratching in the ground, exposing all sorts of disgusting little things that she eats. Through various biological processes and the attention of a passing rooster, she eventually produces eggs which, when warmed, hatch into fuzzy little baby chicks that she then protects until they grow up.

One of the cutest sights you’ll ever see, at least on a farm or ranch, is a mother hen followed by her brood of baby chicks. Wherever she goes, they follow, just as surely as if they were tied to her by the feathered version of apron strings. The Hen cares about her chicks, too, to the point of sacrificing her life if a fox or skunk raids the hen house. It might not stop the raiders from including those chicks on their dinner menu, but the Hen will darn sure die trying to prevent it.

It’s not just varmints that inspires such fatal protection. Storms are another threat. In that case, you’ll hear the Hen calling to her chicks while spreading her wings wide. The chicks run to her for protection, snuggling close to her body under those sheltering wings. In the event of an ordinary storm or even a severe thunderstorm, the Hen endures nothing more than a bath and the chicks emerge warm, fluffy and dry. But if those storms carry hail with it, the Hen may yet again make the supreme sacrifice to protect her chicks.

There are times, though, when that sacrifice occurs thru ignorance or accident. Back around 1912 or 1913, on a farm in Mississippi, my mother –- who was seven or eight at the time — was told to put a chicken under a washtub to protect it from developing storms. While she did as she was instructed, what she didn’t do was to place a stick, rock or piece of wood under the edge of the washtub so the chicken could breathe. No one told her that was necessary.

When the storm was over and the washtub raised, the Hen was — as you have already guessed — dead, the innocent victim of a dastardly fowl deed.

My Grandmother did the only practical thing. After plucking and cleaning the recently deceased Hen, she fried it for dinner whereupon it was enjoyed by all. Except my mother. Since she had named the bird and basically made it into a pet, there was no way she was gonna eat it. That’d be like eating family!

Eventually, at the end of her egglaying/breeding days, the Hen winds up as the basis of that delectable Southern Fried Chicken…or Chicken Cacciatorre…or any of dozens of other ways to turn chicken into a mouthwatering meal.

Unfortunately, all of those epicurean delights that frequently come courtesy of the Little Red Hen and her feathered relatives may soon become a rare addition to the dinner table. The main cause of this will be the scarcity of chickens in the grocery store. If Pilgrim’s Pride and others aren’t put out of business entirely, I shudder to think how high the prices may eventually go. All because of a lawsuit over chicken mess that is, literally, nothing to crow about.

May the Little Red Hen rest in peace. My dining table will miss her.

Richard Marmo

August 12, 2009