Articulate May 2017

A Sigh in the Henhouse – An Excerpt from “Farmer Able”

Written By: Art Barter (Founder/CEO of Servant Leadership Institute)

The pigs are running the farm. So begins the story of Farmer Able. Everyone on his farm — people and animals alike — are downright downtrodden by him. He’s overbearing and compulsively obsessed with profits and productivity. He’s a typical top-down, power-based manager, forever tallying production numbers in his well-worn ledgers. But the more he pushes the hoofs and horns and humans, the more they dig in their heels. That is until one day when he hears a mysterious wind that whispers: “It’s not all about me.” Can he turn things around and begin attending to the needs of those on his farm, thus improving their attitudes and productivity?

In his book, Art Barter challenges readers to not only seek success, but also a significance in their careers. “Farmer Able” asks leaders to adopt an “It’s not all about me” mindset and recommends a leadership style that focuses on the needs of employees, thus improving their attitudes and productivity.

The following is an excerpt from chapter 21 of “Farmer Able”

A Sigh In The Henhouse
It was about that time when the henhouse door opened. The chickens instinctively retreated to the very back of their cages, fearing Foreman Ryder had come. But it was Farmer Able who stood at the doorway. The momentary relief they felt was quickly overridden by yet another panic. Uh oh. What lame-brained idea does Mr. Advanced Farmer have this time?

Their fears weren’t abated when the farmer strode up and down the coop counting as he went.

Finally Juanita couldn’t stand the suspense any further and let out an unchecked stream of squawking. “I’ll lay more eggs. I’ll push harder. The Egyptians called us ‘the bird that gives birth every day’. I promise I’ll do that! Cluckadoodle, I will.”

A chorus of reprimands from the other hens immediately followed that outburst. “Pipe down you big chicken liver,” Peggy clucked. (She hadn’t understood the Egyptian reference, summing it up as just another zany idea Juanita liked to steep herself in.)

Peggy continued to try and get Juanita to shut her beak. “You want him to clip our wings even more? Smaller cages? A darker henhouse? Might as well just have him dredge us in flour and throw us in the fryer.”

Boy, did that last comment create a stir. Forget the book of chicken protocol; every chicken knows that’s a “don’t-even-go-there” proposition.

Yet when the farmer had finished his counting, he offered something the chickens hadn’t ever heard: a sigh. His compulsive number crunching had finally done some good. No, he wasn’t tallying egg production. He was counting his flock. He said out loud, “Whew! Good thing those coyotes didn’t carry any of you off.”

The farmer had heard some coyotes off in the distance the night before. He wondered if they had come closer and gotten in through a side door that someone had mistakenly left open.

This concern was so unexpected that some thought the farmer’s wits had flown the coop. “What did he say? What? What?” Juanita nervously cackled.

Her little cheep actually caught Farmer Able’s attention. He moved toward her cage.

“There you’ve done it, you flufflehead,” Peggy scolded.

“Absolutely!” another hen named Madge concurred. “A good chicken never draws the attention of the boss. Just keep your clucker to yourself and do your job.”

Farmer Able unhooked and opened Juanita’s cage. “Bwackity . . . bwack . . . bwack!!” Juanita said, pushing up against the back of her cage as hard as she could. She hid her head in the corner thinking if she couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see her. The farmer reached in and grabbed her anyway. She trembled badly. “My only solace is that I might be roasted and not turned into a fricassee,” she clucked, sure that this was the end.

But Farmer Able didn’t carry her off. No, he actually stroked her a few times, pausing to note, “What’s making you lose your feathers, old girl.” Juanita didn’t like the “old girl” comment, but given the general intent she could abide it.

The farmer paused from his petting and scratched his own head. He looked around at the other chickens, who had all pressed forward in their cages and were looking at him with wide eyes and tipped heads.

“I reckon …” the farmer said out loud, but then paused to cogitate a bit more. Then he strode to the henhouse door.

“That’s it. She’s soup now!” Peggy couldn’t help but exclaim. The other chickens bwacked for Peggy to be still, for Farmer Able stopped just outside the henhouse door.

“I reckon …” he finally finished his thought, “I’ve been the fool here.” And with that he gently let Juanita down on the barnyard ground. She was so stunned—and frankly didn’t have her lot legs— that for a moment she just stood there.

“Go on,” Farmer Able intoned. “You don’t need to be in that cage any more. Heck, I’d lose my feathers, too, if someone confined me like that.”

Juanita stared back at him, not understanding that last comment given the featherless— and frankly quite ugly—nature of his skin.

“Go on,” he said yet again. “That Advanced Farmer magazine be darned! And Willis Achbaucher be danged! And my standing with all those clodhoppers down at the grain elevator be doggoned! Go on, my feathered friend. Be free!”

“Yes, git!” Peggy and the others clucked, straining to see out the door. “Git while the gittin’s good.”

Juanita finally stopped being paralyzed and stepped her jaunty way further out into the barnyard. Of course, she couldn’t help herself. She hadn’t gone but a few strides when she saw a fat, little worm sunning himself. “Bless you,” Juanita clucked right before she took a gobble. Juanita always remembered to say bless you to the worms for providing themselves so graciously.

Farmer Able’s henhouse-cleaning wasn’t finished. No, he spent the good part of the morning, flinging open cages and freeing every one of those birds. It certainly did his heart good. But for the chickens . . . well the uncoopiness was so expansive that wouldn’t you know, there were enough eggs dropped that day to put a custard factory in a frenzy.


To learn more about Art and his new Servant Leadership Journal, as well as his book on servant leadership, “Farmer Able: A Fable About Servant Leadership Transforming Organizations And People From The Inside Out”, endorsed by Stephen M.R. Covey, Ken Blanchard, and John C. Maxwell, visit

ART BARTER believes everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. To teach about the power of servant leadership, Art started in his own backyard by rebuilding the culture of the manufacturing company he bought, Datron World Communications. Art took Datron’s traditional power-led model and turned it upside down and the result was the international radio manufacturer grew from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in six years. Fueled by his passion for servant leadership, Art created the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI).

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