A couple of days ago, my own tenacious nature showed its dark side. To say the least, Tuppence ended up getting the stinky end of that stick. But let me back up a bit and provide some foreground.
As the some might be aware, Tuppence proved himself to be a rooster. Initially, this was not a big deal: As he matured, the girls guided him to the understanding that he’s the lookout against predators while they get to eat first. He even went so far in his learning as to bring food discoveries to the girls’ attention. Very lovely. But that’s about the extent of the loveliness.
About a month and a half ago, I posted news on Tuppence’s ill deeds and the need to do something about how he was thrashing the hens. Amorousness is one thing, but rooster lust to the point of serious hen feather-loss is another.
And then there’s the matter with Henny. The “Not Enough Will” post documented the level of fear she has had with Tuppence. And I have been sick with a weird collection of ailments over the past couple of weeks: Cold/flu symptoms despite being inoculated against the flu, and severe abdominal and back pains–together lasting over a month. Even now I still don’t feel right, often can barely bend over enough to pick up something off the floor. But enough about me.
So, to keep Henny happy and Tuppence at bay, I took to leaving him behind in the coop with a piece of plywood to block off the doorway to the hen house. After two days in a row, it was apparent that Henny was loving the arrangement. She was even hanging with the rest of the girls and moving as part of a flock again. That was great, but, after a while, it started seeming a little unfair for Tups to not have access to forage. So I gave him a day out and left Henny to her own devices inside the hen house. Bad move.
Henny had quickly took to like being outside that she just had to come out again–despite seeing Tuppence out and about. Mind you, I thought it important to preserve access for the other hens to come and go as they please–egg laying and all–that I left all the doors and flaps to the hen house open. So, as soon as Henny jumped out, Tuppence ran full-tilt boogie for her, to get some “action.” Margaret happened to be outside at the time.
So Henny runs past Margaret with Tuppence in hot pursuit. On her second pass, Henny goes airborne. For Margaret. Who wasn’t prepared. Arms come up as a shield to fend off the bird, and I’m shouting to not hit Henny and to let her land–contrary to instinct. I think common parlance calls that a fiasco on everyone’s part. Human and chicken included. So back into the hen house goes Henny, and all doors get closed with access limited via the coop.
Half the day goes by, and I get to thinking that maybe Henny should have the rest of the day outside. Of course, that entails Tuppence going back into the coop. Margaret had already left for work, so I was on my own. I poke around and find one of my wide-mouthed, knotless, catch-and-release trout nets. I’m thinking that this ought to allow me to catch him without hurting him. If my back had been feeling fine, I would could have just used my hands to grab him. Since that wasn’t the case, I turned to the net. Okay! Can you see where this is going yet?
Now I have net in hand and following Tuppence around the backyard. At first, the chickens hang behind the bushes, but I eventually manage to flush them out into the open corners of the yard. That wasn’t so hard: All I had to do was follow them closely to make them move along. I’m getting very intent by that point. Not good.
Down one side of the house is where we keep the garbage and recycling bins. I almost catch Tuppence in the net there, but one of the Buff Orpingtons flew into it by accident. He makes good his escape, while I’m letting the hen loose. Not good, again.
My next chance comes when the chickens collect at another corner of the fence that’s on ground sloped upwards. I’m thinking this is good, as I won’t have to bend down so far with my nagging back, nor so fast given the corner being backed by a high fence.
So I carefully ease my way closer. I allow the hens their chance at slipping by. Tuppence is by himself. I am so intent. I make my move. I miss. And he flies over the fence.
I hustle around the house to block him off from running out to the street. I think I have him. I move in. And miss. Off he goes! Around the corner of the house to the front and gone. I go to look, but he is way out of sight. I can’t even guess where he might have gone.
I’m thinking he could be anywhere. I text Margaret about the events. I feel like I just crowned myself “Idiot of the Year.” No, that’s “Fucking Idiot of the Year.” And I don’t do “Idiot” very well.
Back when I was a kid starting off in high school, my father declared that all us kids had to choose an animal to raise on his little “dream” farm. Mind you, I’m not trying to be snarky or bitter about that: It’s strangely common that sailors dream of being farmers and farmers dream of being sailors. And my father had served his country by devoting 32 years with the Navy. He was also a child of The Great Depression. Only farmers didn’t go hungry was what he recalled. When he made this proposition to his children, he was still on his “Twilight Tour,” finishing off his last two years of duty. What that meant was that he was still working, while us kids were taking care of “our” chosen critters.
I chose swine, my brother chose beef, and my sister chose dairy. We all had no idea what we allowed ourselves into. I actually thought I could profit enough from the pigs to buy a car. Wow! I can actually hear the laughter and tears coming from Iowa! If I mention what kind of car, I think I would be handed the death sentence for committing pig farmer genocide in the Midwest. Millions would have died from that kind of painful laughter coming from the sorrow of their labor.
In this story, things turned south because of the early hours one has to keep when caring for dairy cows. Before the school bus arrives at 6:45 AM, the cow needs to be milked. Yes, the bus ride took 45 minutes between home and school. As it turned out, my sister managed to be excused from her critter responsibility. Lucky her, as the dairy cow both demanded the most hours of devotion above the obligations called for by swine or beef cows. Plus, she liked to kick at whom ever was milking her. I really have no idea how Karen shirked this one, but it was my father who provided the rationalization. He informing us boys that, if our grades were as good as our sister’s, then we wouldn’t have to take care of the farm animals. Needless to say, that wasn’t the case and nor would it be so by the end of any year we attended high school.
Allen and I took turns milking the cow. Her name was Endora–after the witch mother-in-law in that ’60’s comedy called, Bewitched. We got her second-hand from a nearby farm that wanted to unload her. They named her and with good reason. What an unpleasant animal. When not delivering a cloven hoof towards your head, while you are hunched over milking, she would swat you with her shit and piss-encrusted tail. Her third weapon was chemical warfare. Rumbling out from her multiple demon stomachs–as if issuing from the lower depths of Satan’s Hell–she would deliver foul and vile belches that would both color your vision with the green of nausea and deliver you to the brink of vomit. Luckily, I never succumbed to spilling my shame. Later in life, this served me well while moving tons of nine-day-old herring on a processing ship in Alaskan waters.
When you’re trying to get ready for school, that early in the morning, you don’t want to get tainted by a piss and shit encrusted cow tail. After multiple inflictions, my brother and I figured we could take a small piece of rope and tie Endora’s tail off to one side, to keep her from swatting us. It worked pretty well. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before we forgot to release her tail before freeing her head from the stanchion locking her neck and the rest of her body from moving about.
Sure enough, when she bolted out of the milking parlor, she left the tip of her tail behind.
Of course, we were horrified. The thing is, I’m still trying to figure out to this day if mine and my brother’s emotions were more tied to what we did or the matter of our father’s likely reaction. Either way, what we did–our stupid negligence and our angry resentment that pushed us to do what we did–was the work of two immature boys creatively working together. And I sincerely hope that my horror over what we did was more connected to the realization that we committed a needless cruelty to a hapless critter that knew it needed milking but didn’t like those tasked to relieve her of that discomfort and their clumsy technique. To this day, I still am unsure. That was over thirty years ago.
When my father came home, he didn’t beat us. All I remember was him clinching his fists in rage. He could have atomized us with his fury. Maybe he did.
After I texted Margaret, it occurred to me that needed to walk the block in the direction Tuppence ran. Our house in only one door down from a 30 mph traffic artery. I walk to that street and look north. There is Tuppence hunkered down below the height of a dirt mound and in the notch where the neighbor’s house and a fence connect. I ran back to get the net.
Perhaps it only comes via 20-20 hindsight how impulsiveness and tenacity chemically join to produce disaster. Because that is the only explanation I have for why I didn’t consider the traffic behind me and that I needed to not let Tuppence slip past me in that direction. I did it all wrong. As I closed in on him, he recognized me and cut to my left–and ran into the street. There were cars coming in. The first one missed him, but the second made him stop and turn. That was enough for the bumper to connect. Light brown under-feathers exploded. He spun and ran back limping past me. I quickly got the net over him. I then inverted him, cradling him on his back in the net. He calmed down.
Lord, I felt bad: For him and towards me for losing my self in chasing him down.
I eventually sized up the damage. He seems to be taking it all with lots of stoicism. Above his knee and below his hip, I think his bones are shattered. To be honest, I have no real idea. I ended up making a splint from coat hanger wire and tongue depressors cased in athletic tape. I wrapped that with an ACE bandage and taped over that to secure the mess. I thank Margaret for helping me with that–despite her deep anxiety over Tuppence’s suffering. I’m praying that the splint has immobilized his leg enough to set and heal. No telling, really. Have to leave that to time. I’ve read that two weeks is the norm for a bird’s metabolism. We shall see.
And doesn’t it suck that Tuppence went from being a pest to being in need of help? To say the least, Henny and the rest of the hens are faring a lot better for the loss of “attention” they aren’t getting from that rooster. It’s kind of nice to see them all starting to recover their feathers and foraging without harassment. Sure, I could have killed him, but I think it more appropriate to give him a dignified death prior to eating his stupid carcass. Does that make sense? Some people state that “It’s just a chicken!” Is it ever that simple? I know from experience that cows and chickens feel pain. I’ve seen it, and I’ve inflicted it. So does the question become: What’s the right thing to do?”
All I can say is that, I don’t do “Idiot” very well, and I do feel like an idiot once again.