The Roving Rototiller

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pox and the Promised Rooster

     "Ooo-oo-ooo!"  Pause.

     Mr. A’s Promised Rooster is tuning his pipes in the breakfast nook again.

     Pox has hit the young birds, as it always seems to do at this time of year.  This year’s strain appears to be a re-run of the one from past years, since there have been no "second offenders."  That’s a relief, but it’s also a bit of a headache, because it's a variable strain that shows up differently from bird to bird.  And it sure did a number on my plans for these kids.
     Mr. A has had his eye on this young rooster for months.  The first time he saw the father, Abner, his eyes lit up.
     "Say.  Are you selling that one?"
     I looked at Abner the Icelandic, who was ruffling his snowy feathers in the breeze.  The odd black and rust-colored splotches over his saddle feathers were just starting to come in, promising that he would be a striking bird.  I had already earmarked him for my breeding project.
     "Sorry, but no.  I’m going to breed him."
     Mr. A sighed.  "He’s real good-looking.  If you get any chicks of his that look like him, I’ll take them!"
     Mr. A buys a lot of our spare birds, adding them to his laying flock as needed.  A fellow chicken hobbyist, he is always on the lookout for birds that are hardy and good producers.  But he also likes to have handsome birds, and he really liked Abner.  Every time he came over, he would ask wistfully,  "Do you want to sell him, maybe?"
     Originally I had planned to put Abner in with an Icelandic hen, and raise up pretty little babies.  But I only had one other hen at the time, and she was quite bonded with a different rooster, thank you.  So when Abner began getting anxious about attracting a hen, I gave him Lindy, a pretty little gold hen with brown markings, feathered legs, and a pea comb.  Lindy is one of our cross-breeds.  She’s a real odd mixture, some Polish, a little Belgian Bearded, but about half of her makeup is Easter Egger.  The two of them hit it off right away.  Abner was so happy to have a hen to provide for.  Lindy was so happy to have a big rooster dancing attendance on her every waking minute.  I had no intention of allowing the two of them to produce chicks, however.  I told myself that Lindy’s green eggs would be easy to tell from those of an Icelandic hen . . . once I got another one . . . and easy to remove from the nest.  In the meantime, at least both of them were happy.
     But Lindy had ambitions.  In July, when we were out of town, she began guarding the nest box day and night, growling at the petsitter.  By the time we came home, she had begun setting on a clutch of her own eggs.  Faced with the alternative of destroying a batch of started eggs, I sighed and left her to it.
     Lindy hatched out a startling seven chicks: five white, two brown.  Over the next few weeks, she lost two when they wandered too far away.  But the remainder grew into two white hens, one brown rooster, and two white roosters.  One of them is the spitting image of Abner, apart from the fact that he has feathered legs.  When the chicks were three weeks old, I invited Mr. A over to show him the youngsters and offered him his pick.  He immediately pointed to the little Abner-clone.
     "That one!"
     "All right,"  I laughed.  "Do you want him today, or when he’s bigger?"
     Mr. A sucked his teeth a moment.  "Better wait until he’s bigger."
     So the chick was left with his siblings to grow up.  In jest, I started calling him Mr. A’s Promised Roo, which eventually got shortened to MAPR, and then Mapper.  He was just reaching the intended size--about half the size of his mother--when his sister Caramella broke with pox.
     It just doesn’t do to sell birds that are on the verge of breaking with pox.  The stress of going to a new home brings the disease out in spades, not to mention spreading it to the new flock, if they haven’t had it already.  So when I first noticed the little purple nodules on Caramella’s face, I sighed and braced myself.  Sure enough, within a week Mapper was showing nodules too.  At this point his sister was getting pretty run-down.  Although it was taking the less-harmful "dry" form (what I call the Warty form), the pox left her fatigued and with little appetite.  She moped around the pen, getting shouldered aside by her healthier sibs.  She needed some time on antibiotics and good feeding, and there was only one way to guarantee that, so that night I opened up the box and pulled her out.  Then I took Mapper for good measure, and set them up in a cage in the breakfast nook.
     It turned out to be a good thing, because three days later Caramella was feeling much better, but her brother’s pox had turned fulminant.  The nodules multiplied all over his face and swelled to the size of peas, leaving him temporarily unable to see out of his left eye at all.  He even developed a nodule on his beak, something that I’d never seen before.  But his appetite remained good.  After a week of antibiotics, the nodules were shrinking and scabbing over, the signal that this infection was on the wane.
     When I went to put Mapper and his sister back in with the rest of their family, though, I discovered that the family had forgotten them.  Both youngsters got chased all over the pen, mercilessly harried by both of their brothers.  Mapper took the brunt of it, but even his sister received peck after peck from her amnesiac brothers.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Abner would occasionally step in to punt a fleeing offspring back towards the pursuit.  Eventually poor Mapper buried his face in the corner and gave up.
     So I gathered up the two prodigals and brought them back inside.  They spent the next week and a half in their cage, eating and making a spectacular mess of their newspapers.  The Promised Roo discovered the fourth syllable of his crow.  He began to enjoy practicing, sounding off at less and less appropriate times of day and night.  When my husband got up for the early-early shift at work, Mapper heralded his activities in the kitchen with enthusiasm.  The fifth syllable was not far away; I could hear it warbling on the edge of definition through the pillow crammed over my ears.
     But today was the day.  Mr. A came for his Promised Roo, and was even more pleased to learn that he had become a twin-pack with his sister.  (After nearly three weeks together, I didn’t have the heart to separate them.)  Tonight they are bedded down in the barn at their new home.  I wish them well.  I wish to reclaim my breakfast nook tomorrow, too.

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