Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The Rooster Problem
During the Depression, Uncle Sam quit paying for the broadcasts, and Sammy gave music lessons. She took to spending summers in the north and winters in Florida, always working on a cook book. She was friends with Majorie Kinnan Rawlings, the Florida writer who also had family in the Adirondacks, and Rawlings helped Sammy locate and buy a small island in the Florida swamp lands. The island had only a big storage shed, an abandoned moonshine shack, and a dock with a john boat.....and Mr LaRoy, an Afro Asian man who helped Sammy convert the still to a stove and fix the place up for her to write her Still Kitchen Cook Book.... and raise chickens Mr. LaRoy supplied. Most of the chickens were roosters and they were not trained for cock fighting, but all roosters have six to ten times the Testosterone levels of humans, and so they must be dealt with.
Instead of killing them for broilers at the onset of adolescence, Mr. LaRoy visited every two weeks to round up and milk the roosters for the roostosterone.....and he left the next day, carrying the stuff in vials. We up north knew about the chickens, but we didn't know about Mr. LaRoy's special business.
And we didn't know about the business between Sammy and William.
During her summers in the North country, Aunt Sammy visited us often at Loon Island, and little William took a liking to her That was unusual, because when visitors were around he mostly stood off in the bushes or sat in a tree. He was twelve or fifteen at the time. His age has always been uncertain, as he was not my real brother, and didn't seem to be much older at that point than when he had first shown up in our family garden six or eight years previously.
So when Aunt Sammy and William announced that he wanted to go and live with her for a while on Rooster Hummock (or "Hammock" as they say down there) Mom and Dad were surprised..... but relieved that he wouldn't be spending another season mostly wandering around and sleeping outdoors.
What we didn't know about Sammy and William, was that during her visits with us, she had been secretly breast feeding him.
It's not as if you would expect that to be going on, but I suppose access to roostosterone had something to do with the fact that Aunt Sammy, who had never even had any biological children, was lactating at age fifty something.
And of course, wild child that he was and is,William has never complained; and on Rooster Hummock, he was usually out with the hens, sucking eggs, and rumpusing with the roosters.
He helped Mr. LaRoy with the rooster round-up and each time Mr. LaRoy gave him a quarter, which William put in a sock .
Until early one morning, he snuck out and away back to the North Country, carrying a favorite hen and a sock full of quarters in Aunt Sammy's guitar case.
The Three Guys Protection Agency
My first ever shipment of chickens arrived one cold, early Spring, and included fifteen or twenty unexpected rooster chicks , added as biodegradable thermal-mass to keep the desired chicks warm. I had already decided that, besides as a source of broiler meat or roostosterone, there ought to be a natural role for roosters, and that we would work it out. One of the first things to learn about chickens is that they grow and mature but very soon they got to be unruly , aggressive, and unmanageable adolescents.
At that time I knew that my brother William was wandering around between Coy Glen and Dietrich's barn where he sometimes slept and read books I had stored there..... so I caught up with him reading in the barn, and asked him him to come here to help me deal with the chickens.
William said he was planning to build a boat right there in Dietrich's barn and then navigate up through the lakes to the Arctic....which you can do on a map, anyway.
I told him he could build his ark right here at Dog's Plot,
So he came, and did.
At first he groused about my keeping so many roosters and when I suggested he milk the roosters, and he refused....wouldn't eventell me how it's done.
But really the Roosters weren't much of a problem for William. He knew all the strut and bluff , wing dance, and chest butt stuff. He he took the roosters on one by one.
Occasionally body language was not sufficient and he would humble a rooster by pulling out a tail feather. If enhanced intimidation was needed, he liked to footbowl the attacker into the pond. Roosters can't exactly fly, and they can't quite swim,, but they can flop across the water...... which amused William and gave the roosters a moment to remember.
He had to kill some, just to eliminate the genetically determined assassins. He used the shotgun for the noise effect.
By the time there were only a dozen or so left, he could control the surviving witnesses by just carrying a stick, held as if it was the gun .
William came out of his Ark each morning and led the three Red Star roosters from their perch on my deck rail, down to the chicken house, where he would give each a small stash of corn or sunflower seeds or whatever, then open the hen house door.
He needed to stand over them a while, but food is the trick to tipping the roosters into their better natured routine, calling the hens to the food, clucking over a particularly big chunk of something, tossing it , then moving on , calling the hens to foraging, nesting, and dusting places, themselves standing tall, still, and handsome.... Lefty, Dot, and Whitey, in a rough triangle around the unconcerned hens - tails up, or sprawling in the dust.
When the hens came back to the hen house , often before noon, William would release the unemployed roosters kept in their own wing of the chicken house.... and then there might be a wild rumpus, which William sometimes entered, throwing and bowling roosters.
I gave him my old laptop so he wouldn't get bored with this place, but pretty soon he was blogging about how he was going to take his Ark up the great lakes.
But the ark turned out to be so heavy he couldn't even drag it across the driveway. I don't think it would float either...... even on ice,
And then, of course, his old girl friend Gee appeared.
A few months and several business plans later , she was gone.
And a few days after she went down the road.....William left too,
I don't know where they are now, might be gone south with Missy Hooligan's Tall Animal Review.
Disorder at Dog's Plot
After William left, about all I had to do for the chickens was break bread, open doors, and stand around a while to make sure the roosters got off on the right foot..
And so, the triumvirate of Dot, Lefty, and Whitey had it covered, we had a period of peace and stability.
That was until late last summer, when Lefty suddenly got the black shits and died off the rail.
Link to Lefty: http://dogs-plot.blogspot.com/2010/07/i-remember-lefty.html
When Lefty had been gone a day, Whitey started challenging top rooster Dot. He attacked Dot. straight on , he attacked him from behind, attacked with claw, beak, and spur .....but Dot was more shocked and surprised, than enraged. He didn't defend himself well..
You are supposed to expect this kind of challenge. This is how roosters sort things out, and people might not want to mess with Mother Nature or try to introduce democratic values to chickens.
On the second day....... bloody feathers and streaming wattles...those two were going at it hard, right in front of the house . Whitey was on Dot, at his neck, chop, chop, chop, and not going to stop.
So I ran out and booted Whitey off....not hard enough to break anything, but not a mere foot boost..... hard enough that he landed on his feet about five yards away and kept on going, flapping and squawling, outraged and humiliated. Maybe too hard.
I was out with my camera when it happened and didn't manage to turn it off, or to include much of the violence, but you can hear Whitey's protest and Dot's triumphant flapping.
After breaking up the coup, I didn't see Whitey around for the rest of the day.
That night I went out with a flashlight ........and found him roosting on a carry- beam under the deck.
The next day he came out from under the house, but if he got too near, Dot chased him off.
The two nights following, Whitey sat in the dog house on the deck,
I gave him some Friehoffer's oatmeal bread and then let him in the house to scooch in the the guest chair.
Next night Whitey roosted up on the recyclables bin the roosters use to get up on the rail.......
right smack under Dot .
And the next night after that, he was up on the end rail.... three feet to the left of Dot, half a space left where Lefty used to be.
Mornings now, Whitey and Dot both accompany me to the chicken house, I set them up, and they range with the hens. They manage, but it's a two dimensional, arrangement in a three dimensional world. Sometimes the hens straggle out of the pincer and the two roosters split up with the two groups, or one of the roosters might wander off alone to nap, flap, and crow.
This year I raised some Americuna , Chilean/Ameircan chicks who started in the house but are now totally outdoor birds. The sleep in the sumachs, and occasionally lay eggs in my tool boxes. Whitey tries to wrangle them about a lot of the time now, but the Anerunas are wild and agile fliers who easily evade the roosters and me.
One warm day a week or two ago I left the sliding door open and Whitey Came in. He sat in the guest chair, and began to cluck and chuckle quietly, After a few minutes, one of the Aracuna pullets came in.
Whitey chuckled her to the chair, and she got right up and leaned over him with her head inches away from of his, staring into his eye, or maybe his mouth. Perfectly still . Then her three intense sisters came in too, and pretty soon I had to shoo them all out.
Later Yellow Foot ....with Whitey right there and me too... laid an egg on the chair. Small and rounded. They both stared at it..... astounded.... or expectant...its hard to tell what they're thinking..