The Roving Rototiller

Monday, February 21, 2011


Chickens come in many breeds, each of which was designed for a primary purpose.  Some were developed for meat, others for eggs, and quite a few were developed to provide both.  Then there are the ones whose ancestors possessed an interesting physical trait that caught the eye of long-ago breeders, resulting in careful combining of birds to lock that trait into successive generations.  These are the ornamental breeds.  They're beautiful to look at and often quite decent layers as well; there's no denying that these birds can be fully functioning members of a working flock.  But when you breed for looks, sometimes you end up with a few little surprises.  Case in point:  Ag.

Ag is the silver-laced Polish rooster that came of last summer's hatch.  His striking coloring was completely unexpected, and as is so often the case with roosters, convinced me to hang onto him for "just a little longer" to see if he could integrate into the flock without driving senior rooster Elwood crazy.  So I've gotten to watch him grow from a punk-rocker gangly chick with an '80s porcupine 'do into a tall young vision in black and white stripes.

Embarrassing baby photo of Ag, who is on the right.
His companion is a bantam Cochin chick.
All grown up!

Being a Polish, Ag doesn't just have feathers on his head; he has something that resembles a wilting sea urchin.  If Cruella de Vil and Phyllis Diller got together and designed a line of wigs, Ag would be the poster child.  Then there are the black beard and muffs that he inherited from his mother.  With his little dark eyes barely visible among the thicket, he looks like Bubba the Muppet, of Lubbock Lou and His Jughuggers.  Vision is not one of his strong points.  But stubbornness?  He's got that in spades.

The first real winter storm came through back in October.  We don't generally get rain during the summer, so that first rainstorm is always a big deal for the flock:  for some of them, it's a reminder of what lies ahead, but for the summer's new chicks it's an Experience.  This was a good storm, with gusting winds and fairly heavy showers.  When I opened up the barn that morning, all of the birds ran out like they usually do, but it was obvious that their hearts weren’t in it.  Elwood shortly came back inside and looked up at me firmly; taking the hint, I scattered a large amount of scratch around inside the barn, and he called the hens back indoors to eat.  I took scratch around to the other pens, noting glumly some new leaks in the roofs.  Meanwhile I spotted Ag foraging around in the yard and being blown sideways by the wind.  He couldn’t figure out what was happening, but soon scooted underneath the tarp of Donna's crate.  I figured that he would stay under cover and went back inside.

A few hours later, the weather had devolved into more intense versions of the same:  louring sky, sharp blasts of wind, and steady, steady rain.  A cautionary voice in my head suggested going out and checking on the birds again.  So I zipped up in the rain suit that lives in the breezeway, pulled on my boots, and clomped outside.

Well, every single bird in the main flock was standing inside the barn, including Donna King, who hates the barn.  Except . . . Ag, who was determinedly running around behind the barn, pacing out his turf in mule-headed defiance of the weather.  He was soaked to the skin.  Long black and white feathers stuck up in all directions, his crest was plastered flat to the top of his head, and every time a gust of wet wind hit him he would shiver, stagger backwards, and cluck crossly.  He looked like something fished up out of the shower drain, skittering around on long skinny blue legs.

Naturally when I tried to catch him, he threw a holy fit.  First the sky had tried to drown him, and now he had this gigantic blue Cookie Monster in thumping black boots chasing him around the yard with a net.  After several minutes of stalking him around the other pens, I saw him heading for the barn.  When he stepped inside, I dove after him and slammed the lower door.  The barn stayed closed up for the rest of the day.  When I checked on him again mid-afternoon, his feathers had dried out and he had stopped hiding in the corner.

Since that day, Ag has settled down somewhat.  I think the turning point for his opinion of humans came when he contracted pox--the diphtheritic, Wheezy form--and spent five days lurking in the shower stall.  I was pretty worried about him, but he turned the corner on antibiotics and before long we began putting him outside with the main flock during the day so that he could get some sun and exercise.  After a week and a half of regular handling, Ag had become downright phlegmatic about humans.  Now he hops up on top of the nursery pen every morning, expecting to be served a handful of scratch.

1 comment:

  1. He really is a striking bird, and I love your descriptions of the storm.