Life Sketches by Terry Berkson
Deporting an abusive rooster didn’t solve a plucking problem because my hens continued to lose their feathers and I was sure it wasn’t due to molting. Eventually, I caught Geezbrook, my prize Buff Orpington rooster, in the act with a telltale feather in his beak. I decided, as handsome as he was, that he would have to go to King’s Auction. Back on the farm, the remaining rooster continued the abuse, but I decided not to give him up because then I wouldn’t hear his crow in the morning, which always gives me a charge. Instead, I fitted a painless wire that amounted to something like a horse’s bit in his beak that allowed him to eat, but prevented him from pulling out any more feathers. I suppose I should have tried this with Geezbrook but that egg was already fried.
Still, the plucking problem continued and I came to realize that the hens were pulling each other’s feathers out. I called my chicken guru, Roger Vaughn, to see if he could come up with a solution. “Maybe you’re feeding them too much corn,” Vaughn suggested. “That could result in a dietary imbalance making them crave protein — and feathers are made of protein.”
But, I wasn’t feeding them too much corn. I did give them dandelion leaves and let them free range a little longer but to no avail. Vaughn suggested that I trim their beaks like you would a dog’s nails. “Then they won’t be able to pull out any more feathers.” This sounded like a practical plan and my son, Jonathan, who is a lot more agile than I, was up visiting and agreed to catch the chickens in order to perform the painless procedure. He delivered each captured bird as it squawked bloody murder while I clipped away. My wife Alice, who was repelled by the idea of trimming beaks, refused to chase after any chickens. All was going well until, Little Caesar, my favorite, most intelligent and noble bird, decided to make a break for it. I guess hearing all the squawking was too much for her so she jumped the fence and headed for a hedgerow with my son in hot pursuit. Being a bright bird, Little Caesar hunkered down somewhere and gave Jonathan the slip. We finished trimming the rest of the beaks with no sign of the escapee in sight. By nightfall I sadly figured my favorite chicken was going to be food for the coyotes.
The next day, I got a call from neighbor Marilyn Purcell. She said that while driving past our place she saw a chicken out by the road in front of the pines with her wing out as though she were hitchhiking. It had to be Little Caesar!
I immediately got some cracked corn and headed towards the road. “Here chick chick,” I called as I threw the corn into the pines. Just then a tom turkey bolted out of the trees and crossed the road narrowly escaping death as a passing pickup truck came to a screeching halt. A bearded man in camouflage hat and jacket sat behind the wheel with a puzzling grin on his face.
“You’ll never get a turkey that way,” the man said. “You want to use a gun.”
“No,” I said. “I was trying to catch…”
Before I could explain, the man rolled up his window shaking his head and was on his way.
It wasn’t long before Little Caesar appeared and began to follow my trail of feed across the lawn in the direction of the coop. When I finally got her inside the fence she was strutting past the other chickens like she had been on vacation.
“Look at that bird,” I told my wife. “Doesn’t she look like she’s showing off?”
“I guess she is,” Alice quipped. “She’s the only one without a nose job!”