I rarely venture out at night anymore (aging eyesight vs. headlight glare), but I am tempted to peek into the Osawatomie City Council meeting tomorrow evening.

They will be discussing the topic of chickens and whether they will be allowed inside city limits. In these divided and too-often-unkind times, it intrigues me to see this topic on the agenda.

When I was growing up nearly every third home had chickens in the yard. We didn’t have freezers, groceries were expensive and a ready supply of poultry meant fresh eggs and meat on hand.

Hatcheries were common businesses, and nobody thought too much about the subject, taking chickens pretty much for granted. That was true in Miami County, too.

Then came the 1951 flood and its subsequent cleanup. One of the primary factors complicating the aftermath was the stench from drowned poultry and flooded privies. Fowl odors were an everyday problem when coops were large and cleaning not done daily. In fact, my grandfather and great uncle hid their still and moonshine operation in a shed built next to the chicken coop. The smell of the hens hid the odor of the mash.

My other primary memory of chickens was at harvest time on the Oklahoma farm where mom had been reared. I was sent down on the InterUrban to help in the kitchen and the preparation for feeding the imported “hands” that did the actual work of combining.

One of the adults killed the hens, chopping off heads and feet. Three of us worked to pluck, gut and cut them into pieces for frying. Two others worked the pans at the wood-burning stove and together we produced enough fried chicken and gravy to go with the mashed potatoes, green beans, sliced tomatoes and biscuits readied earlier in the day. Iced tea, coffee and pie completed the meal, and we started work for the next day’s dinner.

Yes, our grandkids had chickens as 4-H projects, and some people find it therapeutic just to watch them, but I have to say I prefer my poultry fried or baked.

Council members already have an ordinance to review — #3791. It spells out conditions, numbers, genders and even fees for would-be owners of the feathered family “aves.” I don’t know what they will decide. Whatever the decision, we can be grateful that Osawatomie doesn’t have the animal problems that Paola once faced.

Both the Miami Republican and the Western Spirit reported that back in 1872, hogs ran wild, tearing up shrubbery, fences “and the like.” Someone stole the material comprising the hog pound, and goats began to roam the town.

In 1889, the city of Paola rented the Ennis lot adjoining Barney Reed’s livery stable and built another pound, this one for cows. Apparently, cattle owners were turning the animals out in the mornings and they “made their way down the boulevard” browsing in yards and trampling parks and sidewalks. When council members tried to find ways to restrain such damage, they “were jumped on with both feet.”

The noise, the odors, the possibilities of salmonella and of attracting predators that chickens present and the “dangers” presented by scratching and pecking broody hens all pale when we recall that, in 1920, Paola was overrun by monkeys. Thirty of them escaped from the Patterson Circus out on North Iron west of the KATY tracks and appeared on rooftops throughout the town. Residents were warned to keep children inside and to close all windows until circus employees recaptured the escapees.

Animal control is a serious business. I’ll be watching to see what the council decides.

Margaret Hays is a longtime Osawatomie resident who writes a weekly column for The Miami County Republic.

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