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Pent-Up Pullets and White House Fowl

News is now at hand that for reasons I wot not, the White House kitchens will serve free-range chickens only. I, and all my feathered friends, deplore this lumping of fowl in to the error of ``chickens,'' since we old hands at the bellows respect the established pecking order (as the White House should) and use the right words for chick, chicken, pullet, cockerel, broiler, fryer, capon, fat old biddy, rubber rooster (they get that way), and numerous other terms that always kept the subject simple.

The farm flocks, as long as snow was in season, were kept in the barn, but when rhubarb budded by the barnyard gate we'd open the trapdoor and let the chickabiddies range, which they would do freely all summer.

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Understand that this was back when a laying hen, dusting in the unpaved rural road, was not likely to be picked off by some nitwit passing in an early Overland at eight miles an hour. As soon as the hens had been liberated and were ranging, it became my summer chore to catch Sunday dinners. The White House lawn will never be the extended range of our six adjacent townships, including Skunk's Misery Gore, but let the television boys manage as best they can: The head chef running down the capons for a state dinner would wondrously invigorate the evening news from Washington.

A pent-up pullet in captivity is an expense, but once she roams she is on her own. Fowl are not persnickety in particular and will rob a robin of her wurrumm and then turn to pick blueberries. Some of the flock would ``home'' and would come to the henhouse nests to lay, but soon few would bother, and we'd find hens' nests all over the place. And when 10 hens all used the same nest under the grapevine for a week or so, the big basket had to be brought. So if range poultry becomes White House routine, and Easter doesn't come too early, the annual egg hunt may become a profitable government program.

I recommend guinea fowl. The guinea hen is peculiar, but is delicious when properly roasted and served. They can fly like pigeons, and as range birds they like to retreat from the meadow and sit on the peak of the barn roof, where they squeal and scream and shriek in a manner unequaled otherwise, imitating the sound of 300 windmills in a brisk breeze that have not been greased since 1846. Unless you've heard contented guinea hens in full cry, you cannot imagine what an asset a flock of guineas would be in the capital.

In my grandfather's time, before I became custodian of the range, he had a buff orpington rooster of advanced stature that would hop onto the sill of the open kitchen window and sing for his food. Grandfather, who then lived alone, would make his lunch, arrange things on the table by the window, and sit down. At once the old cock, magnificent in his foliage, would make a venturesome leap to gain the sill and enjoy his lunch with the old man. But his great heft and the distance often frustrated him and he would clutch at the side of the house, squawk like the billingsgate fishwife, and fall in a heap on the ground. Beyond his dignity, this didn't hurt the old fool, so he'd bounce up and try again, with Grandfather coaxing him to better success with a biscuit. The main reason the rooster failed so often was Grandfather's cooking. When the bird did get onto the windowsill he'd talk to himself a little, and then go into a series of cocky-doodles that praised his ability and alerted Grandfather it was time to serve. The two of them would sit there in mutual admiration discussing various things, and it was heartwarming to see such prandial affability and companionship. Grandfather told me one time that the rooster would eat just about anything with gusto, but he was not fond of horseradish. I have mentioned this in detail, and I believe a buff orpington rooster at a White House breakfast window would be a good thing to see. We must confess that at times Washington has done much worse.

The United States Department of Agriculture has a free booklet telling how to ``cull'' laying hens quickly, and in direct fashion it explains how to tell one bird from another, and spares the farmer of housing the unprofitable slackers while he puts all his good layers in the stew pot. The White House chef needs a copy, and if anything else about range poultry crosses my mind, you can bet that I will speak up as any honest, patriotic citizen should.

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