LIFE SKETCHES: Made in the Shade: There’s More Than One Way to Curb a Rooster

Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Made in the Shade: There’s More
Than One Way to Curb a Rooster

Clever thinking plus antique lampshade equals crisis averted. (Photo by Terry Berkson)

I once had this beautiful tropical fish that was mutilating and eating up the rest of the fish in the tank. It looked like he would have to be flushed down the drain, but before doing so, I tried threading a piece of dental floss through his tail with a sewing needle to create a drag that would slow him down when chasing after the other fish.

“Isn’t that cruel?” my wife, Alice, asked when she saw the streamer trailing.

“It’s better than flushing him,” I told her.

The floss worked like a charm, with the killer fish showing no discomfort. My tank remained in harmony for a long time.

Now, in a new life up on the farm, I was down to one rooster. The other two troublemakers wound up at King’s auction.

King said he was going to keep one of them for himself because he was so good looking. He granted my hens conjugal visits if they were so inclined. I told him I didn’t think they would miss their feathers being pulled out by the brute.

That’s why I got rid of him. He had plucked a large, target-shaped patch out of the back of almost all the hens so that they all appeared to be molting. I tried isolating him for a while, but as soon as I put him back with the hens he started pulling out feathers.

My neighbor, Jim Butler, had about 15 Rhode Island reds. Each and every one of them produced an egg a day—without the help of a rooster. Butler told me that his hens’ beaks were clipped when they were young so that they wouldn’t be able to peck out each other’s feathers. I envied the pristine condition of his flock and telephoned my chicken guru, Jim McNulty, to see if he had a solution. He told me that the beak could be clipped like a toe nail, but he recommended that I install a piece of wire in the rooster’s mouth that would keep him from closing his beak all the way. The wire would be very much like a horse’s bit and would be anchored to the bird’s nostrils.

“The metal clip from a bag of potatoes would be perfect for the job,” McNulty said.

I didn’t think the rooster would like his beak trimmed or that he would be very comfortable breathing through his mouth all the time, so I tried to think of another method.

I needed something to stop this rooster. When a dog gets his ears clipped, the vet puts a cone over his head to keep him from bumping into things and scratching them. I thought something like that might keep the rooster away from the hens, but nothing around the farm seemed to fit the bill—except the shade from one of Alice’s cherished antique lamps. It was the only thing around that would fit over the rooster’s head and, at the same time, flare out so that every time he went to peck at a hen he’d be pushing her away. Alice was out shopping. If the lamp shade idea didn’t work, I’d put it back and she’d never know the difference.

It took a lot of convincing to get the rooster to put his head through the ring at the top of the shade and when I let him go, he shook and bucked like a bronco, but the shade remained. When his movements calmed down to what resembled a waltz, he looked so ridiculous that the hens fled at the sight of him. Later, when he tried to approach a hen, the shade/bumper did its job and kept him away. The rooster kept looking at me sideways, as if to say, “Are you serious?”

I was feeling pretty good about myself. This idea worked as well as the dental floss in the fish, but would Alice be willing to sacrifice her shade? I had no idea where I could get a replacement. She was due home any minute. While decorating, the lamp had been carefully tucked away in storage, so she wouldn’t miss it right away. I’m thinking of the time I used one of her new pots to mix wallpaper paste. In retaliation, she didn’t cook for a week. What if Alice sees the rooster dancing around in her lamp shade? I might wind up wearing it!

I’ll just have to keep her away from the coop.

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