October 13, 2010
Friday was a poignant day.
For some of our older and smaller hens – we have nine – that morning saw the rebirth of Let The Good Times Roll. But the happiness my wife Linda and I felt for these ladies was mixed with a profound sadness for their companion.
We had to take Little Red Rooster to Neal’s feed store, where, hopefully, he will attract a new owner who prizes him, as we did, for his strength and beauty.
And not for his meat.
I say “Little” Red Rooster even though he had grown into a surprisingly robust fellow. A Rhode Island Red, handsome and proud with a strikingly brilliant scarlet comb and an array of tailfeathers of the silkiest shimmering green. The poultry Brad Pitt. George Clooney. Shia Labeouf. Take your pick. Just not Justin Bieber – Little Red’s far too macho to be him
The problem with this guy was that he was, in the words of blues singer Lazy Lester, a lover not a fighter. A lover in the wham-bam way, mind, with not even a thank-you afterwards, although he always provided so gallantly for all the ma’ams in his charge. He never ate a scrap in their presence – always pointing out choice morsels and inviting the ladies over to dine.
But Little Red was basically a big stud.
And here lay the problem that caused him to be banished from the realm. Our oldest hen Rosie, now nearly seven years of age and arthritic, was never able to escape his brutally amorous advances. In a voice so cracked she could have been a lifelong three-pack-a-day Marlboro smoker, she would croak out a feeble protest: cock-a-doodle-DON’T!
But there was no stopping Little Red.
Our other granny, Poulette, would be similarly swept off her feet against her will, although this one could till manage to dodge him on occasion.
She is one of two Araucanas – the breed with the 19th-Century-style side whiskers that lays those green and blue “Easter Eggs”. They are small chickens. Red was plainly too much for them and so they would hide in the trees all day to avoid an intimate encounter.
Maybe it wasn’t so much his size as his unromantic manner.
Because I remember his predecessor, Eggbert – also known as Bertie Rooster, after the P.G. Wodehouse character – was bigger, a Brahma, but the little dames all loved him for his sweetness. Just like his literary namesake, Bertie was a real toff. A gentleman,.
Unlike Red, who was somewhat reticent, he’d rush up to me whenever I came out of the house. He’d demand some of my ice cream, which was never refused. Strawberry was his favorite.
The big guy met his demise when we introduced another male, a young Langshan in need of a home, who promptly beat him so badly he could no longer stand. For another month we nursed Eggbert back to health, had him leading the flock again... only to see him keel over one day.
He was a cock with character and we miss him.
Yes, chickens, just like all animals, have different attributes and tastes and personalities – not just their color or their size or shape. (Some folks might find that true statement too mushy).
We’ve had Little Red since he was one day old, bought, along with nine others six months ago, from Neal’s Family Farm And Garden on Route 11 to whence he’s now been returned. They lived in our house for six weeks, hand-fed and cooed-at, before we transferred them to their new abode, an extremely well-appointed coop we call Cluckingham Palace.
After a week there – tragedy again. Five of the newbies were killed overnight by a predator. Detective work showed it to be highly unlikely the creature could have entered the compound, but a smallish hole showed how these five might have wiggled their way out, only to become a beast’s late-night feast.
We’d seen a gorgeous red fox lope through our backyard a year earlier; not the scraggy in-town type that look like they could be on methamphetamines but one with a shiny coat and a full, fluffy, flowing tail.
Monroe’s coyotes gather fairly close to our home for a night howl, which makes me wonder what would happen if these two species ever came face to face. Would they be amigos or adversaries? Would they even know they are related? That they both like chicken?
But it wasn’t them. The night after the carnage an opossum came a-sniffin’ round: we saw it on an old closed-circuit TV surveillance system that’d been hastily dug out of the barn, dusted off and re-assembled. That’s our chief suspect, Brer Possum.
You become over-protective of your animals if you’re us. So while we repair the first coop our nine hens stay in the new one that I built with the help of my neighbor’s lad, J.D. Shumpert Jr. And because it’s every bit as sumptuous as the original, it, too, deserved a royal name: Wingsor Castle.
But it’s a castle without a king. We’re hoping Little Red Rooster will find a new home that’s just as regal.