Chicken, Kitten, Calf

July 11, 2009 at 12:51 pm (Farming, Writing)

I was out for a walk with my dog Riley the other day when he suddenly pounced into the brush, snagged a woodchuck, shook it until its neck broke, munched it a few times to make sure it was dead, and then laid it on the ground and smiled at me. He was so darn happy with himself.

It reminded me of a short-short story I wrote several years ago and submitted to a contest (250 words max). I did make the Long List, as judged by Dave Eggers, who apparently got what I was doing. I read this aloud at the Merrill House celebration on the last night of the Colgate Conference. I had had a bit to drink first.

This actually happened. (Not for the squeamish.)


The golden sunlight slanting in through the cracks in the barn cut across the flanks of a cow giving birth. With a last moan she pushed her calf out, and it landed in a slimy pile behind her. She immediately turned and began to lick it dry; before long the calf was attempting to lift its head.

A chicken, looking for stray grain, came strutting through, thrusting her head forward and back. Coming upon the newly born calf, the chicken smelled its still wet hooves, fleshy and calcium-rich. With a peck and a peck, the chicken began eating the cartilage on the calf’s hoof bottoms. The calf, barely aware of its own existence, ignored the chicken perforating its feet.

When the chicken had picked its fill, it zig-zagged toward an opening to the outside that was actually a wall fan that at that moment turned on, catching the chicken in its blades. It flew up and squawked temporarily, feathers flying and blood spattering the concrete. But soon it stilled and lay in the corner, where an orange kitten, scrappy and hungry, sniffed it and began to nibble the newly exposed and bloody flesh.

Later, done with its meal, the kitten found a place to curl up in the hay, close to where the new calf was nuzzling its mother for milk. The kitten closed its eyes, curled its tail over its nose, and didn’t even awake when the cow flopped down to rest, smothering the small ball of fur.

rock paper

As I told the crowd, there’s nothing like actually owning animals to disavow you of any romantic liberal notions you had about animals.


  1. sher said,

    Maureen –

    I could have replaced each animal with a family member.

    the circle of life shows little to no mercy.

    I absolutely adore this short-short story.

    Could we do memoirs in 250 words or less. I think I will give it a shot.

    I thought you might be up with the cows this morning. I am up, still, waiting for the Sunday paper to arrive so I can, hence, go to bed.


  2. sher said,

    the timing is so off on this blog thing today. I swear I posted at around 5:30 a.m. . . . but perhaps I am just delusional – I have certainly been accused of such frequently.

    Giving up the ghost.

  3. Linda said,

    Oh my. I am afraid I would not make it as a farmer.

  4. thegirlfromtheghetto said,

    I was wondering about you and your cows this morning … my stepson loved your video, and he is home with me now. Funny that your post mentioned a cow giving birth to a calf.

    This is off topic, but today I also applied to be a movie extra in a hockey film that is filming in Grand Rapids. Guess where? Calvin College, a place I’ve never heard of until you introduced me to The Calvin Festival. How coincidental is all of this? I love it.

    Hope you are well. Still enjoying your magazines.

  5. Abby said,

    You had me at “not for the squeamish”. Wondeful telling.

    And yes, I’d be honored to be on your blogroll. Thanks for stoppin by!

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