Day 124: Chickens and Roosters


For all those farmers out there, both rural and urban alike, here’s some chicken and rooster lore from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore” for you.


Weather Signs:
“Some country women believe that chickens are somehow able to tell what the weather is to be for several days in advance. When chickens or turkeys stand with their backs to the wind, so that their feathers are ruffled, a storm is on the way. If hens spread their tail feathers and oil them conspicuously, it is sure to rain very soon.”

“A storm is expected, too, if the chickens are seen going to roost earlier than usual. Mrs. Mueller says also that ‘if chickens stand on the woodpile and pick their feathers, rain is on the way.'”

“When chickens and other fowls are seen feeding in the fields during a shower, it means that the rainy weather will continue for at least twenty-four hours longer.”

Crops and Livestock:
“The old-timers long ago discovered, or at least believed, that chickens which roost in cedar trees are healthy and free from mites and other parasites, so that many farmers periodically cut cedar boughs and put them in their hencoops. A few years ago, when bananas became common in the village stores, people somehow got the notion that a banana stalk hung up in a ‘chicken house would rid the whole place of mites and chicken lice, and these stalks are still seen in outbuildings occasionally.”

“Some chicken raisers tell me that it is a mistake to keep chickens near a potato patch, or near a place where potatoes are stored. The smell of potatoes, it is said, makes hens quit laying and want to brood. I have often seen hens with corn shucks fastened to their tails this is supposed to discourage a settin’ hen in a few days.”

“It is generally thought best to set eggs in the light of the moon. Never set a hen or an incubator when the wind is blowing from the south, or mighty few of the eggs will hatch. Eggs carried in a woman’s bonnet, it is said, invariably make pullets.”

“Unusually long eggs, or eggs with shells noticeably rough at one end, are also regarded as ‘rooster eggs.’ It is said that eggs set on Sunday produce roosters, but one hears also that eggs placed under a hen in the forenoon, no matter what the day, always hatch a majority of pullets. Some hillfolk believe that chicks hatched in May, regardless of how favorable the other conditions may be, will never mature properly.”

“There are several magic tricks to protect domestic fowl from birds of prey. Mrs. Lillian Short, of Galena, Missouri, tells me that one of her neighbors used to take a smooth stone from a runnin’ branch, just about big enough to fit the palm of the hand, and keep it in the oven of the cookstove this was supposed to prevent hawks from killing the chickens. Most hillfolk of my acquaintance use a horseshoe instead of the stone, and some think that a muleshoe is even better. It is frequently fastened in the firebox of the stove rather than in the oven. In the old days the muleshoe was hung up in the fireplace, or even set into the mortar at the back of the chimney.”

“Some chicken grannies pull one feather out of each chicken in their flock and bury these feathers deep in the dirt under the henhouse or henroost. As long as the feathers remain there, it is believed that those particular chickens cannot be carried off by hawks or varmints, or stolen by human chicken thieves.”

“There are several peculiar taboos against mentioning aloud the exact number of chickens in a flock, or cattle in a herd, particularly if it happens to be an even number one divisible by two. A real old-timer never counts aloud the flowers or fruit on a tree, or the number of peas in a pod, or even the number of ears on a stalk of corn, because of an ancient notion that this counting may injure the crop.”

Household Superstitions:
“When two roosters fight in the yard, it is said that two young men will soon arrive; if two hens fight, female visitors are expected.”

“In some sections of Arkansas there are people who bury the entrails of a black hen under the hearth on ‘Old Christmas.’ This is said to protect the house against destruction by lightning or fire.”

Mountain Medicine:
“Some old settlers make poultices of chicken manure mixed with lard as a treatment for pneumonia; it is said that the dung of black chickens is best.”

“The inner lining of a chicken’s gizzard, chopped fine and made into a tea, is used in cases of dyspepsia, stomach cramps, colitis, and so on. They tell me that this stuff ‘settles the stummick’ quicker than anything found in the drugstore.”

“Other local healers contended that a big dose of dill tea, or tea made of the inner lining of a chicken gizzard, would cure hiccoughs almost immediately.”

The Power Doctors:
“An old man in Pineville, Missouri, told me as a great secret that he could cure any wart by squeezing a drop of blood out of it on a grain of corn and feeding the corn to a red rooster. According to another version of this story, it is best to rub the wart with two grains of corn, feed one to the rooster, and carry the other in your pocket.”

“Many people think it is a good idea to burn feathers from a black hen under the bed of a fever patient. I have seen the feathers of black chickens dried and saved in little paper bags for this purpose.”

“A power doctor near Fayetteville, Arkansas, says that in order to cure shingles one has only to cut off the head of a black chicken and smear the blood thickly over the affected parts. Wrap the patient in sheets and let the whole mess dry. Next morning you just soak the wrappings off, and the shingles will be gone.”

“At many points in Missouri and Arkansas country folk treat chickenpox by bringing a black hen and chickens into the sickroom and making them walk over the patient’s body as he lies in bed. Near Bentonville, Arkansas, I knew a woman who brought a black rooster into her house and placed it again and again upon the bed where a little boy lay sick with chickenpox.”

Courtship and Marriage:
“The fresh blood of a chicken, that of a black pullet in particular, is also said to remove freckles and make the skin white and creamy.”

“Many mountain women say that to eat chicken hearts, especially raw chicken hearts, will make any girl good looking; I know one poor damsel who ate them for years, but without any benefit so far as I could see.”

Pregnancy and Childbirth:
“After the babe is delivered, some hillfolk burn a handful of chicken feathers under the bed, as this is supposed to stop hemorrhage. If the woman has a really bad ‘bleedin’ they kill a chicken and fasten the warm lining of its gizzard over the affected part, usually burning a few feathers at the same time. Needless to say, one never sweeps under the bed of a woman in childbirth, or she would surely die. So the ashes of corncobs, chicken feathers or anything else that is burned must lie there until the woman is up and about.”

Ozark Witchcraft:
“Some witches are said to kill people with graveyard dirt, which is dust scraped from a grave with the left forefinger at midnight. This is mixed with the blood of a black bird; a raven or crow is best, but a black chicken will do in a pinch.”

“One old woman in my neighborhood was unable to walk without crutches, but whenever a chicken was to be killed she insisted on doing the job herself. One of the boys would catch the chicken and bring it to granny as she sat in her chair under a tree. As she wrung the chicken’s neck she spoke the name of an ancient enemy of hers.”

Death and Burial:
“If a hen makes any sound suggestive of crowing near the door, it is a sure sign of death, and I have been told of cases in which somebody died within ten minutes. A crowing hen will excite any group of backwoods people; I have seen a man spring up and fire his revolver wildly into a flock of chickens, killing several. Some people do not hesitate to eat a crowing hen, but this man would not allow one to be cooked in his house. ‘Throw it to the hogs,’ said he, ‘and if they won’t eat the damn thing, we’ll sell it to the tourists !'”

“It is a bad sign for a rooster to crow in the doorway; if anybody is dangerously ill in the house it usually means death. If a rooster crows seven times in front of the door without turning around, it means that someone in the family is going to die soon, whether any of them are sick now or not.”

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