August 21, 2011

Cock-a-doodle-DOH!


Chaz, ne Sadie

Chaz is destined for stew, maybe coq au vin, although we'd probably substitute some kind of wild mushrooms instead of the traditional button mushrooms.
Once again, one of our hens has turned out to be a rooster. Sadie, the most beautiful of all the chickens, showed her hand this morning. It followed a frustrating two days of chicken wrangling, chases, sudden confusing changes in behavior, and a couple of days and one night of tough love.
Sadie, regular readers may recall, is one of two “black” chicks I raised. Both she and Billie have grown into lovely copper-on-black beauties. But Sadie’s feathers glisten, are blended near the tail with blues and greens, and are particularly fine and long in the cape that flows from her neck to cover the shoulders. This is both regrettable and potentially profitable.
We have held out hope for a few weeks now that telltale rooster characteristics somehow aren’t real. She’s big and broad in the butt and so perfectly formed for egg laying that there should be no question. Yes, her comb and wattles and earlobes are more pronounced than the other hens, but the nubbins on her legs couldn’t be nascent spurs, though they do seem a tad sharper than the others'. And look! Her tail gracefully curves back, as hens’ tails do, not erect and extra-long which is a proud hallmark of the rooster.
Sadie came to us with a permanent scowl on her face, and still has it. She was the most aloof of the chicks and still is. She is nearly impossible to catch, at least for somebody who won’t see 59 again. To be frank, she has always been the least likeable of the chickens. And she was the only one to go eyeball-to-eyeball with Larry, though she always backed down and spent most of her time trotting around at Larry’s side, like a toady.
For a week she’s been increasingly stubborn and hard to chase into the chicken palace when the others are willingly going. Where a nearby hit with spray from the garden hose used to be enough to send her racing for home, she now stands defiantly with the water hitting her fully. Two nights in a row I managed to get my hands on her and push her into the palace with the others. On both nights she went immediately to one corner, jammed her head down into it, and keened while Larry verbally and physically berated her.
Larry, the top rooster
Yesterday, she became too wary, too crafty, too belligerent and just too fast to catch. So when the others went back inside from their morning free range, I left her out. It made me edgy, though she has good places to hide under the sunroom, and Our Trusty Dog Pete has been only amiable with the chickens and generally stands off a respectful distance.
Last night came out the same way. I felt I had no choice but to leave her out for the night. She insisted.
This morning, when I took my coffee out to the sunroom to meet the day, Larry was crowing away in the chicken house. Both Vicki and I like the sound, which puts one more stamp of authenticity on our little farm. It goes well with morning coffee.
Then I heard a second crow, a bit weaker and less crystalline, coming from under my feet. For Sadie – and for us – the jig was up.
I texted the news to Vicki, who’s visiting back in Michigan. She called. We consulted. “His new name should be Chaz,” she declared, tickled with the pop culture reference.  I was to look into the feasibility of keeping two roosters. I did, and while there were a few encouraging words for two roosters that had been raised together, there were many more about the probable horrific outcome or having two chiefs, two studs, especially for a small flock. Ours now is just four hens; we started with what we thought would be six. I’ll spare you the details of what a rooster can do to hens that don’t submit in the absence of the rooster that originally claimed them. Chaz has also allowed himself to be dominated by Larry, and now acts like prey.
So after more consultation, we’ve decided that Chaz will feed us in a way we hadn’t anticipated. Vicki and I fly fish, and I know that well-preserved skins with the feathers intact, including the hackle or cape, and the saddle, can fetch a premium from fly fishers who tie their own flies. Premium rooster feathers make fine artificial flies.
I’m reading up on preserving the skin with borax, and also on butchering. I told Vicki that to claim we run a farm won’t be true unless we include making use of a chicken that now has no other. She agreed, and touched me when she apologetically asked if I’d mind going it alone. Of course not.
It’s part of the deal, this butchering. I intend to do it as quickly and humanely as possible, with the respect due that which nourishes us. It will be my first time.