"What do you feed half a rooster?" - a cautionary folk tale

“What do you feed half a rooster?”

You have six chickens, a rooster, and a field to grow wheat.  Each day, you make a loaf of bread from a small amount of the wheat, and trade 2 eggs with the miller to grind the wheat, and for some butter he accepted from your neighbor with the cow.  Your neighbor with the cow trades some of his milk for your straw, and gives you manure and used bedding to fertilize your wheat, so he doesn’t have it accumulating in his barn.  By cooperating, everyone is healthy and fed, if not prosperous.

The government comes in, and distributes two of your chickens to the farmer with the cow, and two more to the miller.  They slaughter the neighbors cow, and give you and the miller each a third of the meat.  They take the miller’s upper stone for unpaid taxes.

Without the manure, you produce less wheat.  You only have two eggs – if you trade them, you can make no bread…of course, there will be no butter with the bread, but the miller can’t grind your wheat into flour, so you roll your grains and make a porridge, which you share with your neighbors. 

A year passes.  The government comes and does its census.  It takes a chicken from you and each of your neighbors.  This time, they give the “taxes” to the people in the next valley, who are “less fortunate than you” – after, of course, extracting a portion to pay those who work in government.

You each now have one chicken.  Oatmeal and French toast with no sugar is what you can eat, so you’ll get by.  You continue to share your porridge with your neighbor who used to have a cow.  He lets you grow extra wheat on his land, so, by cutting back on the portion you eat, you have almost enough for everyone, although the portion you feed your chicken and rooster has also had to be reduced.  The malnourished chicken doesn’t lay every day, and the neighbor who used to have a cow and the former miller are in the same boat.  It is harder, but you’re surviving.  As you eat your gruel , you remember the beef, and miss the milk.

It’s a new year.  The neighbor who used to have the cow can’t give them “his” chicken, so the government takes half his land.  They lower his taxes, but you and the miller have to make up the difference.  You give them your chicken, and conspire to mate your rooster with the miler’s last chicken, and skip eating the eggs.  The miller gives the government the other half of his now useless millstone.

Still, there’s porridge, and, sometimes, an egg.

The miller, weakened by the strict regimen, falls ill, and, sadly, dies.  The tax man takes all but two of the chickens as estate tax, because, after all, in the annual census, he said he only had two chickens.  His two children and their mother take their chickens and leave to live with her family in the next valley, but they generously give you two chicks to honor your agreement with the miller. 

Another year has passed.  The vacant home of the miller is taken for unpaid taxes, but it remains empty, because, without millstones, the mill is just a barn, and, with no cow in the valley, no one needs a barn. 

With no manure, your field is faltering.  You have had to set aside some as fallow.  The government feels cheated, and so you are charged an alternative minimum tax, equal to what they feel you “should” owe.

Your neighbor who used to have the cow has given up and left, leaving his land in your hands for all the porridge you gave him.  You are now, however, the only taxpayer left in the valley. 

The government returns.  “You’ve really grown your acreage”, says the tax man.  That will be two and a half chickens.

“What do you feed half a rooster?”, you wonder.

You make soup, and resign yourself to porridge for another year…

What will they take next year?


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